Tuesday, March 09, 2010


A couple of years back the police in Laos stopped a motorbike headed towards the Chinese border. Their attention was caught by a pipe of a few inches in diameter strapped to the machine, which they opened and squinted down. Inside were two tiny Asiatic bear cubs, the size of human fists. The pair were destined for bear farms inside China, because there the animals bile is claimed to have a value in medicine. Their paws are also considered delicacies.

The rescued bears now live with around twenty of their kin in a sanctuary just outside the Laotian city of Luang Prabang, which is where I encountered them and their British keeper. He and his partner sold up in the UK a few years ago and in his words 'burnt their bridges'. Just as well, since the sanctuary's population of rescued bears - they don't breed them here - has shot up in recent years.

The bears in the wild are solitary but here in the big enclosures they all seem to rub along fairly happily and spend their time taking baths, playing with balls and dozing on platforms. They've been saved from a life of almost indescribable humiliation. If you're in Laos, and you're passing, drop in as they can use your support.

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