A furry black bear cub playfully clasps a rubber pet toy between its paws and eats fruit in its new home – Vietnam's first refuge for bears rescued from abusive traffickers of bile used in traditional medicines.
The bear is one of four endangered Asiatic black cubs and two adults that were smuggled either from neighboring Laos or from southern Vietnam in the past seven months and confiscated.
"It reaches across to people, acknowledging that we should be protecting bears for their own sake rather than how they can be benefiting humankind," said Jill Robinson, founder of Animals Asia Foundation, a Hong Kong-based animal welfare charity that is funding the center.
"I think that's a very good message that we don't need bears today in traditional Chinese medicine," she said at Monday's opening of a quarantine area for bears. "There are lots of herbal alternatives and synthetic alternatives, too."
It is illegal in Vietnam to extract the bile from bears or to advertise the trade, yet authorities and wildlife groups estimate more than 4,000 "Moon Bears" as they are known for the white crescent mark on their chest, are caged and mistreated in farms across the country.
Tam Dao National Park director Do Dinh Tien said the new center has a role in trying to influence a cultural change in the Southeast Asian country.
"This is a kind of model to educate all people so that they will not abuse the wildlife," says Mr. Tien.