Bears fund celebrates 21 years
STARTING with a simple petition 21 years ago, one Perth woman’s passion has ignited global environmental change.
Mary Hutton founded iconic charity the Free the Bears Fund in 1995 and has dedicated her life since to saving endangered bears across the world from cruelty.
The organisation has now safely rescued an astounding 900 bears all over the world and has no intention of slowing its vital work, with a gala cocktail party next month March a chance to celebrate 21 years of inspired effort and to kick-start fundraising for a new sanctuary in Vietnam.
The Stirling woman has been the face of Free the Bears Fund for two decades but Ms Hutton last week paid tribute to her late son for the organisation’s inception.
“He was responsible for getting me started, he saw the cruelty the bears were going through on television and just said ‘Mum what are we going to do about it’,” she said.
“I was angry I didn’t know about what happened to these bears, I thought they were all living nicely in the jungle, living in a painted world that obviously was not reality at all. It upset my peace of mind and the horrible things really bugged me.”
The cruel images of trapped bears being harvested for stomach bile and body parts haunted Ms Hutton and empowered her to make change.
Bears are among the world’s most endangered animals, with illegal wildlife trades in bearskin, teeth, claws and paws. The bears have led me down a path I never envisioned I’d walk down, but it has been full of wonder, heartbreak, courage and inspiration
Traditional Asian medicines can involve using the animals’ stomach bile, extracted through methods labelled by Ms Hutton as “atrocious”.
“The bear is put into a small cage so it can’t move, then they put a catheter through the wall of the stomach which goes right through the gall bladder so they can draw the bile out with a needle,” Ms Hutton said.
“Or they’ll put a steel belt around the bear and put a tap on it.
“But that wound never closes, and it gets inflamed and infected.”
The organisation has built worldclass sanctuaries in Cambodia and Laos, as well as providing support to sanctuaries in Thailand, Indonesia, India and Vietnam.
“The bears have led me down a path I never envisioned I’d walk, but it has been full of wonder, heartbreak, courage and inspiration,” Ms Hutton said.
While it started small, Free the Bears Fund now has representation all over Australia and a large team of passionate volunteers and team members.