Mary Hutton frees Asia's endangered bears from lives of torment
By creating bear sanctuaries in Cambodia and India, Mary Hutton has kept endangered bears from being exploited in many cruel ways.
Phnom Tamao, Cambodia
James and his sister Rose were discovered hog-tied and half-starved in a wildlife trafficker's truck. Both Asiatic black bear cubs would lose a paw to injuries inflicted by poachers' snares.Skip to next paragraph
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Kong was kept as a pet in a bar, his sight permanently damaged from the meager diet of leftovers and beer. Holly was rescued from a restaurant just as the nine-month-old cub was about to be used as ingredients for a local delicacy – bear paw soup.
Yet thanks to the Australian woman's Free the Bears Fund, Ms. Hutton's ursine protégés – 106 so far and counting – now live happily on 17 acres of landscaped woodland with scenic rocky outcrops.
Endearing creatures with shambling gaits and mischievous temperaments, the bears traipse aerial walkways, splash about in pools, doze in their dens, or rummage for honey-sprinkled delicacies stuffed into lengths of bamboo in stimulating games of hide-and-seek devised by keepers. Even bears missing a paw or forelimb have learned to climb again.
"None of these bears had a hope," Hutton says, standing beside a nursery where rescued cubs run amok. "Now they have a second chance of life."
So do hundreds of other Asiatic black bears, sun bears, and sloth bears – three highly endangered species – in India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia. In each country, Save the Bears runs sanctuaries for animals rescued from the flourishing illegal wildlife and pet trades.
"Each bear has a huge character bursting to get out," says Matt Hunt, the charity's program manager. "It's amazing to watch terrified, emaciated animals shivering in a corner come alive and throw themselves headfirst into play."
Hutton, who lives in Perth, Australia, is on a visit to catch up with developments and "thank keepers for their hard work." One of her Cambodian helpers, who hand-raises cubs, once made a living preparing bear paws for soup.
Yet Hutton, a gracious, unassuming woman, plays down her achievements. "Without people's help I couldn't have done a thing," she stresses.
"She's fantastic, and they've done a great job," notes Nick Marx, a veteran of wildlife rescue operations who works in Cambodia for the US-based Wildlife Alliance. "Often you confiscate a bear and think, 'He's not gonna make it.' Many animals would be dead without Free the Bears [where] each one of them gets a chance."