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It's watching at a marvellous documentary in the channel " Animals" that I discovered Mary Hutton 's action for bears and I decided to contact her foundation to speak about her action.

After an exchange of mails with Sally, I received the agreement to publish on my website some articles giving explanations about the action of Mary with " Free the bears Fund Inc".

  © Freethebears - Mary Hutton

In 1993, Mary Hutton was watching a local current affair program in Perth, Western Australia.

She saw a segment that would change her life, and the life of her family.

The segment contained horrifying footage of Asiatic Black Bears held in coffin sized cages unable to move or turn with non-surgical steel pipes inserted directly into their gall bladder.

Gall bladders have been used in Asian medicine for centuries, however bear bile farming is a relatively new procedure so that the bear, instead of producing only one gall bladder from it’s carcass, can be "milked" of its bile for its entire adult life.

The next day, Mary drew up a petition and stood herself at the entrance of the local shopping mall. Within months, she had thousands of signatures, a regular group which became a committee and was beginning to receive information from other animal funds around the world - Free The Bears Fund was formed.

When the petition signatures reached around 130,000 Mary and a small delegation of school children representing Free The Bears Fund were permitted to present them in person to the Chinese Embassy in Canberra.

In order to do more, money was needed.Soon donations were being received.During this time, Mary became aware of the plight of other bear species, particularly the Sun Bears of South East Asia.

Not only were they the least known and most endangered bear species, they were undeniably the worst treated.

Mary received a phone call from an Australian business man, Mr John Stephens, who was based in Cambodia. He informed her of some small Sun Bear cubs that he has acquired from restaurants in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital, and was holding at his house. "Could Free The Bears find a home for these cubs".

Mary got on the phone and did not get off until she had the answer she was looking for.Mr Wil Meikle, Director of Life Sciences at Sydney's Taronga Park Zoo, said if the criteria could be met, he would gladly give them a home.

After a lot of import, export and quarantine procedures, a first was achieved. The three Sun Bears, named Mr Hobbs, Victoria and Lucille, became the FIRST transfer of an endangered species from Cambodia to Australia.

Free The Bears Fund Inc is now active in several countries in south-east Asia, including Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Kalimantan and India, saving sun bears, Asiatic black bears and sloth bears.

© Free the bears Fund


The objectives of the foundation

The aim of Free the Bears fund is to protect, preserve and enrich the lives of bears throughout the world.

They seek to achieve this by:bears-saved.gif


  • Funding and facilitating insitu and exsitu conservation and rehabilitation projects
  • Preservation and reservation of areas of natural habitat with the aim of conserving bio-diversity.
  • Encouraging harmonious and respectful animal-human relationships by facilitating profitable and sustainable alternatives to the illegal wildlife trade.
  • Empowering indigenous people and communities through training initiatives which enable indigenous communities to support themselves in a sustainable manner through responsible custodianship of the bear and its environment.
  • Providing information, fostering awareness, and facilitating education with regard to threats facing the global bear population.
  • Providing international support and sponsorship for individuals involved with the preservation and
  • Supporting the instigation of new, the review of existing, and the enforcement of appropriate, wildlife legislation to prevent extortion of rare and endangered species as a result of the illegal wildlife trade.
  • Funding and creation of new sanctuaries as required and continual maintenance of existing bear sanctuaries and the physical and mental wellbeing of their occupants.

India – Kalander Rehabilitation Project

For years sloth bear cubs in India have been poached and tortured through brutal training methods to become “Dancing Bears”, forced to perform for tourists.

At less than 4 weeks of age, the cub is stolen from its mother who is often killed while trying to protect her cubs. Sold to traders and middlemen at underground markets, trauma, malnutrition and shock accounts for a mortality rate of more than 50%.

The surviving bear cubs are sold to Kalanders who will teach them to dance.

At the tender age of 4 months, the cub’s canine teeth are knocked out. A red hot iron needle pierces its muzzle, and a coarse rope is pulled through.

The wound is never allowed to heal, and the cub will live in fear, hunger and pain, tied to a stake for the rest of its life.

As part of the Kalander Rehabilitation Project, we encourage the Kalanders to give up bear dancing and help them start a new life.

We help them start a new occupation by providing guidance, training and financial support. After surrendering his bear and licence, the Kalander signs an agreement with us ensuring he will not use wild animals or trade in them to make a living.

© Free the bears fund


Alternative employment chosen by Kalanders so far include: Vegetable vending cart,Tea shops, Grocery stores,Flour grinding shops,Cycle repair shops...

The Kalander Rehabilitation Project is run by our partners Wildlife SOS, and financed by Free The Bears Fund. The goal of the project is “Sustainable conservation through rehabilitation”

Bear Projects - Laos

Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet it is still rich in wildlife. Its mountainous terrain and pristine forests provide a home to both Sun bears and Asiatic black bears, although very little is known about the number of bears remaining in the wild in Laos.

Widespread hunting and habitat loss pose the greatest threats to bears in Laos and, with many social issues to deal with, wildlife
protection remains under-funded and low on the governments list of priorities.

Laos Bear Sanctuary :


Free the Bears Fund began construction of the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre during 2002 after receiving a request for help from the Luang Prabang Provincial Committee for the Care of Rescued Wildlife.

Situated in the beautiful Tat Kuang Si Park, just outside the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Luang Prabang, this sanctuary is now home to twelve Asiatic black bears that have been rescued from hunters.
Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre is visited by more than 200,000 Laos and international visitors each year, providing a unique opportunity for local people to see and learn about their precious wildlife.


Bear Projects - Cambodia

Cambodia has finally emerged from more than 30 years of civil war and conflict.
Until recently, security concerns ensured that large areas of forest remained untouched by humans, allowing populations of endangered species such as Sun bears and Asiatic black bears to thrive.

However, with the country now finally at peace but guns and rifles still commonplace, the hunting and capture of bears for the illegal wildlife trade poses a serious threat to their long-term survival in Cambodia.

Despite recent efforts by the government to ban the trade in wildlife, bear paw soup is still regarded as a delicacy in some city restaurants.

The keeping of bears in small cages as a symbol of wealth also occurs as well as the illegal smuggling of bears into neighbouring countries for use in bear bile farms. 

Cambodian Bear Sanctuary :

Free the Bears Fund has been working with the Cambodian Forestry Administration to provide a sanctuary for rescued bears since 1997.

Located at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, some 40km outside of the national capital Phnom Penh, the sanctuary has grown as more bears continue to arrive each year and now covers an area of more than 5 hectares.

Sixteen forested habitats have been built to house almost ninety bears (a mixture of Sun bears and Asiatic black bears) of different ages and personalities.

Some arrive with terrible injuries after being caught by hunters using snares whilst others are found in traders houses, awaiting sale to the highest bidder.

Bear of the Month - Sandie - September 2008

© Freethebears fund


Sandie was rescued from a poacher's snare in the Kiri Rohm National Park (Cambodia) in 2004.

Unfortunately, as a result of her terrible injuries Sandie lost her front paw and as this made her unable to then fend for herself back in the wild it was decided that she would remain at our Sanctuary at The Phnom Tamao Rescue Centre.

Sandie made a good recovery.Her paw healed nicely, she learnt to adapt to her new situation with remarkable agility and her appetite returned with a vengeance - her favourite foods soon became porridge and bananas.

Sandie now lives very comfortably with a group of other female Asiatic Black bears in their own enclosure.

They enjoy each others company and Sandie in particular likes to hang out and play with Mom and Tayla.Sandie's amputated paw prevents her from running around as quickly as the others – which can be quite a disadvantage when looking for the scatter feeds - so she has developed a clever tactic of heading straight for the barrel feeder and dominating that.

By not letting anyone else get close to it she manages to completely clean out every bit of food inside.Her tactics are obviously working as she has just hit the milestone 100kg mark, making her one of our biggest bears!

If you want to know more about the foundation go to the website :clicking here

Creation date : 13/10/2008 : 17:19
Last update : 21/02/2012 : 19:16

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