Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) and Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) are not only threatened by habitat loss and illegal hunting for body parts, but also captured to supply bear bile extraction facilities. The efforts by Bears in Mind partner Free the Bears (FTB) in Southeast Asia allowed the rescue of almost 400 bears, although options for rescued bears remain mostly limited to lifelong care in sanctuaries. Most rescued bears arriving in FTB’s sanctuaries in the region are under 3 years of age, and as such the ongoing costs of caring for rescued bears throughout their lifespan (often 30+ years) are significant. Although the establishment of a programme for rehabilitation and release may require a substantial initial investment, the outcomes of a successful programme (in addition to potential welfare and conservation benefits of developing successful protocols for the release of Asian bear species) are necessary steps towards bear conservation and can contribute to our understanding of key ecological factors of these species.
Within this project, the development of a bear release programme in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam, starts with the construction of isolation and rewilding facilities and the development of essential activities to ensure a successful implementation. To date, very few releases of rescued bears have been attempted in the SE Asian region, and those that have taken place previously have had limited results due to restrictions in terms of numbers of individuals, site location and methodology applied. Significantly, this project is part of a regional effort with activities occurring concurrently in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.