Last week I visited Vietnam for a veterinary training course
whilst there I had the privilege to visit Animal Asia's Bear Rescue Centre a few hours outside of Hanoi. Animal welfare is never more challenging than when you are dealing with wild animals especially if they cannot return to their natural habitat, so it was a real treat to visit a program where the animal's welfare needs were fully understood and prioritized to the very highest of standards
The Bear Rescue Centre is home to over 150 moon and sun bears who have been rescued from the horrific bear bile farming industry, these beautiful creatures suffered years of imprisonment in tiny cages suffering both physically and psychologically.
Using reward-based positive training methods and a totally hands-off approach the Animal Asia staff have created a true sanctuary where these beautiful bears have access to free-roaming enclosures with a varied enrichment program and veterinary care from a dedicated team of vets and nurses. The sight of watching the bears emerge from their night dens and running into the enclosures into the morning to search for food and climb and swim will stay with me a long time. Visiting the Bear Rescue Centre has given me hope for a future when wild animals stay in the wild or when they can't they are cared for by trained animals welfare professionals who put their needs first.
While thankfully we don't have Bear Bile farming in Sri Lanka
the management of captive wild animals is a huge welfare issue here and money is often at the root of the issue.
Over 150 Elephants are kept as "owned" animals used in either the tourist trade or in paid volunteering programs while often being hired out by owners to take part in religious ceremonies.
It's not just these captive elephants who have been monetized; Turtles are often born in captivity after their eggs are dug up from the wild, numerous tourists visiting "conservation centers" handle them and if they are lucky enough to be released into the wild its often in the middle of the day or with brights disorientating them rather than at night as nature intended.
Profit over animal welfare is common in areas tourists visit
Where slick websites and convincing staff or misguided volunteers convince visitors their tourist dollars are helping the animals and some of my team and I have been caught out in the past. Many of these operations are very convincing and often claim to be charities or NGOs when they are really businesses.
- If you are thinking of volunteering in Sri Lanka please read our 2013 blog "Why Voluntourism can often be the wrong choice"
Dogstar Foundation is working on some animal welfare resources and awareness campaigns for visitors and tour operators here, please contact us if you can support this vital program or want more information before you travel.