Bears fund cel­e­brates 21 years

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - NEWS - Kaylee Martin

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.

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