Image Source: https://worldanimalnews.com/
A total of 22 Moon Bears were recently rescued and flown from Seoul, South Korea, to Los Angeles, California, where they were cleared by U.S. wildlife officials and then transported to The Wild Animal Refuge in Springfield, Colorado.
Upon their arrival at the 10,000-acre Baca County facility, the Moon Bears – which are more formally known as Asiatic Black Bears – were housed in temporary holding facilities where each bear could relax and be evaluated by the sanctuary’s full-time Veterinary staff.
The massive rescue effort dubbed as “Project Free: The Bear” is a collaboration between the Korean Animal Welfare Association (KAWA), an NGO based in Seoul, South Korea, and The Wild Animal Sanctuary (TWAS), which is a registered U.S. non-profit organization based in Colorado.
TWAS operates multiple facilities in Colorado and Texas, with The Wild Animal Refuge being the largest facility with natural forested habitat for bears.
The 22 rescued bears originated at a breeding farm in South Korea that previously used the bears in horrific gallbladder and bile extractions. Although the commercial harvesting of bear gallbladders and bile extractions were once a common practice throughout Asian countries, the process has come under attack in recent years.
Through a cooperative agreement between bear farmers and the Korean government, all captive Moon Bears living within South Korea were sterilized in 2017 in an effort to stop all breeding. Although the reproduction of bears ceased at that time, farmers were shockingly still allowed to kill and harvest gallbladders from bears 10 years of age or older. This process will continue with the 300-plus Moon Bears that are still held in small steel cages within the country.
In 2020, KAWA officials contacted TWAS’s Executive Director, Pat Craig, to request assistance with saving the bears. Craig agreed to dedicate more than a thousand acres of prime refuge habitat to the rescue efforts, and subsequently began arranging for the first 22 Bears to be flown halfway around the world.
However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, all viable transportation options were shut down for nearly two years. Finally, earlier this year, enough air cargo flights became available to fly the bears out of South Korea.
As each bear’s paws were able to touch grass for the first time in their life, both the American and Korean veterinarians in attendance at the unloading, remarked how amazing it was to see the bear’s reactions. Having spent their entire lives laying, sitting, and walking on steel bars, the bears quickly had to learn how to balance and walk in their new and improved environment.
General In-Bum Chun, a decorated South Korean veteran, was onsite with other KAWA officials during this long-awaited moment, he stated that “Americans have gained the respect of the world and Koreans not because of big ships or guns, but because of the humanity of its people which was demonstrated again and again by the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Denver, Colorado.”
The Wild Animal Sanctuary has over 700 rescued animals including lions, tigers, bears, wolves, leopards and other large species of wildlife. Established in 1980, the Sanctuary specializes in rehabilitating captive wildlife so they can be released into natural habitats where they can roam freely and live with others of their own kind.