These uplifting scenes show the hesitant bear walking in daylight on fresh grass for the first time in years. Tragic Mai lost her sight because of the trauma of being kept prisoner so her bile gland could be milked for use in Oriental medicines. Yet having been rescued from her permanent nightmare last year, she was still too scared to step out into the fresh air at a rescue sanctuary.
Finally, having developed confidence in other rescued bears at the Animals Asia sanctuary in Tam Dao, Vietnam, Mai has been filmed walking on grass for the first time since she was captured from the wild as a cub and left to pine away on one of the country’s bile farms.
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Animals Asia has had an incredible success helping the stricken so-called bile bears, rescuing more than 600 and giving them a chance to mooch around in spacious, outdoor enclosures.
For Mai, there has been a hesitancy about leaving the safety of her sanctuary den until the sounds of her fellow rescued bears playing encouraged her to make the leap.
Film released this week shows her ambling from her den across the grassy enclosure, pondering whether to take a dip in a paddling pool or rest up in a nest, before she slowly retreats back inside the comfort of her den.
Mai the moon bear was poached and kept captive for years (Image: Animals Asia)
Sadly, Mai could not see much of her surroundings on her first walk, but there are hopes that the sight she has lost in captivity will one day be restored.
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There are plans for a specialist veterinary eye doctor to examine her soon.
Yet it was Mai's sharp hearing that allowed her to pick up the sounds of her playmates, fellow rescue bears Newtie and Mekong having a rough and tumble, that has finally encouraged her to step forth.
Animals Asia Bear Manager Sarah van Herpt explained: “Over the last few weeks, Mai has been getting more confident.
Mai has bonded with fellow moon bears Newtie and Mekong at sanctuary (Image: Animals Asia)
"She would still only forage on the concrete outside the den, reaching onto the grass to pull food back to her den.
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“But now that she’s made the first brave steps, we’re sure her confidence will continue to grow.
"She’s got so much to look forward to and hopefully Mekong and Newtie can convince her there is a lot of fun to be had out on the grass for these three friends.”
For “farmed” bears, bile extraction means enduring intolerable suffering, with the animals cut open and catheterised to drain their gall bladders but leaving them at risk of a host of health problems, ranging from blindness to arthritis and cancer.
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Mai before her rescue sitting in cage (Image: Animals Asia)
Mai resting at her new sanctuary home (Image: Animals Asia)
Animals Asia was founded by Jill Robinson OBE and has been combating the bear bile industry for more than 20 years, rescuing 600 bears from across the Far East.
In 2017, the Vietnamese government signed a landmark partnership agreement with Animals Asia to shut down every bear bile farm and send all captive bears to sanctuaries by 2022.
For more details, see:www.animalsasia.org