Mary learned that thousands of bears were being held in these horrifying conditions throughout Asia, regularly milked for their bile to be used in traditional medicines.
The next day, Mary drew up a petition and stood at the entrance of the local shopping mall collecting signatures to help “Free the Bears”. She collected thousands of signatures and a group of like-minded people determined to help bears and in 1995 registered Free the Bears Fund as a not-for-profit charity.
As Mary organized raffles, film nights and other events to raise awareness about the plight of Asia’s bears, word of her work spread and requests for help arrived. After rescuing a pair of sun bears from Cambodia, having seen there were more bears in need, she began construction of the Cambodian Bear Sanctuary. This is now the world’s largest sanctuary for sun bears and has educated hundreds of thousands of Cambodians about the threats facing wild bear populations.
Not only operated in Cambodia, Free the bear also expanded in Lao in 2003 with the opening of Bear Rescue Centre in Luang Prabang, followed by Cat Tien, Vietnam in 2008. In 2017 they added the multi-species Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary.
Free the Bears has helped rescued over 950 bears from the world’s most vulnerable bear species (sun bears, moon bears and sloth bears) and they provide ongoing care to hundreds of rescued sun bears and moon bears at the sanctuaries operate in three countries.
Free the Bears Cambodia Sanctuary located inside the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, just outside of the capital city of Phnom Penh. The sanctuary was established in 1997. Following a spate of bear cub rescues, in 1999 the bear cub playpen was built and in 2000 facilities for adult sun bears were extended. A fully equipped Wildlife Hospital was completed in 2006 to help bears and other species in need.
In 2008, the Bear Discovery visitor centre opened, coinciding with their 100th bear rescue in Cambodia. In 2012, a new Bear House 7 was opened, containing the Bear Den education centre for schools and tours, followed soon after by a Bear Discovery Trail. 2013 completed construction of the world-class Cub Nursery and Quarantine Area, using state of the art green design including solar power, water treatment, composting and gardens.
In 2014, groundbreaking ophthalmic surgery restored vision to their moon bear Kong. In 2015 their most recent Bear House 8 opened, raising the bar for standards of bear care.
With over 120 rescued bears, Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre houses the world’s largest sanctuary for sun bears.
They have an incredible team of bear experts in Cambodia, possibly the most experienced worldwide in bear cub and sun bear care & husbandry. The team is positively changing the attitudes of Cambodians towards bears and other wildlife, providing hopes for a brighter future for bears.
According to freethebears.org