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PROFILE

mosaic

Bear N e c e s s i t i e s

Mary Hutton pioneers a project that not only saves ill-treated bears but also educates local communities about wildlife conservation

S

lavery is never good,

Mary Hutton has devoted her life to saving the Asiatic black bears

but topped off with torture it defies any form of humane

description. In 1993, Mary Hutton sat watching television in her suburban home in Perth, Australia, and it changed her life forever. The shocking video footage showed Asiatic black bears being incapacitated, kept in tiny cages while their bile was periodically extracted to make medicine in several parts of Asia. Revolted and outraged by the way these bears were handled, Hutton decided to stand up and take action; and she has not looked back since. The next day she was holding a petition at the entrance of a shopping mall and soon found many to share her passion for the cause. Two years later, in 1995, Free the Bears Fund was officially formed as a non-profit

inquisitive creatures, who try to prise open bags, or are eager

organisation. From informative film nights and merchandise

to share a cuddle.

to petitions filed at the Chinese Embassy, word spread and gathered more supporters. The organisation started

shy female without paws still happily resides here. The

receiving requests from different parts of Asia where people

sanctuary’s kitchen not only varies the food the bears get,

were disturbed at the treatment meted out to the species.

but places it in different areas to stimulate their motor

The more Hutton dug the more bears she found to help.

skills and replicate what they would do in the wild, since

One such request led to the development of the

many of them have weakened muscles from a lifetime of

Cambodian Bear Sanctuary, just 40 kilometres from Phnom

imprisonment. Food is hung up in trees, suspended off the

Penh. The bears at the sanctuary come from a variety of

ground with holes, or carefully hidden under tree trunks

backgrounds – some poached, others bruised and battered

to encourage the bears to explore and investigate their

by traders who smuggle them abroad or sell them to

surroundings on their own.

restaurants specialising in bear paw soup. Many suffering

Text by: Maria Visconti

One of the first few rescued bears at the sanctuary, a

Hutton is aware that prevention is far better than cure,

from gruesome injuries are first treated at the World

and as a result a Mobile Education Unit tours Cambodian

Expeditions Wildlife Hospital with veterinary equipment

rural communities educating school children in wildlife

donated by late environmentalist Steve Irwin’s Wildlife

preservation. Her project has now expanded to many

Warriors. The sanctuary provides open spaces, fresh food,

countries including India, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos,

water and toys to help the bears’ recovery and rehabilitation.

saving more than 700 bears to date.

Visitors are allowed in the open-air areas to play with the To help save the bears or visit one of their projects, log on to www.freethebears.org.au

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41 FT Bears  

Mary Hutton pioneers a project that not only saves ill-treated bears but also educates local communities about wildlife conservation 41 Mary...

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