It’s been almost a month since I returned from visiting Animals Asia in beautiful, but extremely hot, Vietnam. This was one of my favourite trips of all time! Jill Robinson (CEO & founder) is quite simply an amazing human being who has achieved so much since she started the organisation 20+ years ago. Together with her equally amazing team, they consistently deliver for animals in need on so many levels and always in the most efficient and respectful manner.

As many of you will know, bringing an end to bear bile farming in Asia is Animals Asia’s number one priority. This is a long process but they are in it for the long game and until the cruelty ends. In China, where bear bile farming is sadly still legal, Animals Asia currently provide sanctuary for 123 bears in their purpose built sanctuary in Chengdu.

In Vietnam however, further successes have been achieved. Animals Asia began operating in Vietnam in 1999 and as a result of years of campaigning, in 2017 the Vietnamese Government finally signed an MoU with Animals Asia to outlaw the practice. During this time period Animals Asia managed to rescue and provide sanctuary to approximately 200 bears who’s owners / farmers decided to stop bile farming and relinquish their bears. This sanctuary is located in the Tam Dao National Park which was my first stop on this recent trip and I was honoured to be accompanied by long standing patrons of Animals Asia, actors Peter Egan and Lesley Nicol (see pics later in the blog).

Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary

I was just as excited to see the rescued bears at Tam Dao on this occasion as I was on my previous visits. The bears are all so content and seem very relaxed and happy to have found what can only be described as bear retirement heaven (see photos below). Considering what these bears have been through in their previous lives, where they were exploited for their bile and kept in confined cages, you would think they would be angry and aggressive towards us, but they are not. As is the case with many rescued animals I have come across over the years, they are so forgiving. We could learn a thing or two from them…

New Bach Ma Bear Sanctuary

Our next stop was a short flight south to the city of Hue in central Vietnam to visit Bach Ma national park, a beautiful protected area covering 220 square kilometres. We were there to witness the start of a very exciting development for Animals Asia, as it is within this national park that they will build their 2nd bear sanctuary. This will ultimately accommodate circa 300 more bears who will need sanctuary over the next few years as the new law banning bear bile farming continues to be enforced. Animals Asia’s pledge in Vietnam is to “leave no bear behind”.

The local Government and community had arranged an amazing ceremony to celebrate the ground breaking occasion. This really touched my hearts as it demonstrated how proud and serious Vietnam is about ending this horrendously exploitative industry.

OAT are providing significant funding over the next three years to help enable the creation of this much needed second sanctuary and we could not be more proud. We love Animals Asia – everything they do and everything they represent in the world of compassion for animals.

It’s worth mentioning, that whilst the majority of bears residing in both sanctuaries were previously farmed for bile, a relatively small percentage ended up in sanctuary following their confiscation from circuses and illegal wildlife traders. Animals Asia are involved in many more aspects of animal welfare in Asia including domestic animals as well as other wildlife species including elephants…

Animals Asia and Elephants

Our next stop on this Vietnamese trip was to the province of Dak Lak located in the southern part of Vietnam in the central highlands. The national park here is called YoK Don at it is the only national park in Vietnam where wild elephants can be found and sadly there are now only +- 50 elephants left. There are many more elephants in Vietnam, but unfortunately they are being held captive in zoos, circuses and in elephant back riding camps.

Yok Don is the birth place of yet another awesome Animals Asia project that OAT is proud to support. It is the result of working collaboratively with the government to try and bring an end to the tourism based business of elephant back riding. Together with the local wildlife and tourism authorities, Animals Asia have devised an alternative, more ethical tourism based programme. In return for agreed compensation, elephant owners release their elephants to Animals Asia and enable them to be transferred to the Yok Don national park. Here the elephants live a much more natural life and are free to roam, graze and browse alongside fellow elephants in the programme. Being under the respectful supervision of mahouts (carers) employed by Animals Asia, makes it possible for small, organised groups of tourists to safely observe the elephants in their natural habitat.

See heartwarming pictures below showing elephants enjoying their new found freedom and a life worth living. Thank you Animals Asa from the bottom of or hearts for making this possible. Another “End Game” in the making here as it is Animals Asia’s and the governments intention to end elephant back riding in Vietnam in the future. We are so honoured to be a part of this project which is simply life changing for Vietnams captive elephant population.

A long blog this time I know, but so much to say about this truly awesome trip and the time I spent with the most inspiring animal welfare organisation – Animals Asia – and their wonderful staff and patrons. If you would like to join us in contributing towards their work, please chat to us or donate via their website.

Click here to donate to Animals Asia

My next trip will be to Zambia later this year but in the meantime, I will leave you now with something to think about……

If ever you are faced with an option to ride an elephant, please spare a moment to consider the life they lead. They have been taken from the wild as young babies, their spirits have been broken to enable them to be controlled and therefore safe to own and manage, and the torture doesn’t end there… When elephants are ridden, again for safety and control purposes, they are constantly kept in line with the use of bull hooks that inflict pain if they fail to conform. In addition to this, their bodies endure extreme stress and pain from years of carrying large wooden saddles designed for human comfort alone and, like all captive elephants, they suffer from long term physical and mental disorders. If like us, you love animals…..please don’t partake in activities that clearly involve their exploitation. Thank you 🙏

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