Vietnam wildlife center rehabilitating abused animals

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A bear that had previously been victimized by the bear bile business relaxes at the animal rescue center in Kien Giang Province. Photos by Tien Trinh

A rescue center in the southern province of Kien Giang is taking in wild animals that have been tortured or which came close to becoming somebody's meal.

The center on the Hon Me islet opened last July as a joint project between the Ho Chi Minh City-based nonprofit Wildlife at Risk and the local government of Kien Giang.

Nguyen Vu Khoi, managing director of the organization, said the center's staff learns to understand the problems of each animal, as their task does not only involve healing the animals' physical ailments but also easing whatever psychological damage they may be suffering from.

"The nearly a hundred animals have just that many stories long ones," Khoi said.

He recalled one in which local people caught a crocodile from the river and refused to hand it over to the center until the latter urged forest rangers to intervene when the animal was about to be butchered.

A rare bird was rescued with its wings having been broken by hunters to make sure it could not fly away, and farmed bears arrived at the center in severely weak conditions due to having been deprived of bile.

He said when first brought to the center, all the animals are scared of people.

"It takes some time for them to feel safe and confident that people here would do them no harm, and some more time for them to realize they are being treated with kindness," Khoi said.

He said it was hardest for the bears, as they endured longer periods of abuse in captivity.

"Many of them were very rejecting at first, and they kept crying, until one day they realized they had been being fed well and had not been anesthetized to have their bile taken from them, so they began to accept their new life," he said.

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The center has a park for bears with toys specially designed for them.

Le Van Nho, a farmer who gave up his land to the garden and ended up working there, is now in charge of buying food for the animals and makes sure it comes from safe and reliable sources. Food for the each of the animals costs US$5 a day.

"People in the market usually joke that I'm shopping for a party and that the animals here are so happy," Nho said.

He said the center operates on donations from wildlife lovers. Some of them have also "adopted" the animals, paying regular visits to help care for them.

The latest arrival, a little Indochinese lutung, was adopted by an Australian couple during their visit. It was brought to the center several months ago "seriously injured by a trap and waiting to die," Khoi said.

He said it took veterinarians more than one week to save the monkey, but that since, it has been turning back into the restless young animal it should be.

The center last month also helped a monkey give birth; the infant monkey's parents mated last July.

"Animals have their rights, we are making sure animals here have everything they need to enjoy a proper life," Khoi said.

Bui Huu Manh from Wild at Risk said the center's mission is to give wild animals a chance to live in an environment as similar as possible to that of their natural habitats, but that the reintegration process is tough.

Some animals remain lonely, failing to assimilate into their groups and become the victims of bullying among their peers.

Manh said some hedgehogs and lorises have been returned to nature, but that the center has no intention of releasing the bears, as the profits from their bile places them at high risk of being recaptured and further abused.

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