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Mary Hutton frees Asia's endangered bears from lives of torment

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So do hundreds of other Asiatic black bears, sun bears, and sloth bears – three highly endangered species – in India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia. In each country, Save the Bears runs sanctuaries for animals rescued from the flourishing illegal wildlife and pet trades.

"Each bear has a huge character bursting to get out," says Matt Hunt, the charity's program manager. "It's amazing to watch terrified, emaciated animals shivering in a corner come alive and throw themselves headfirst into play."

Hutton, who lives in Perth, Australia, is on a visit to catch up with developments and "thank keepers for their hard work." One of her Cambodian helpers, who hand-raises cubs, once made a living preparing bear paws for soup.

Yet Hutton, a gracious, unassuming woman, plays down her achievements. "Without people's help I couldn't have done a thing," she stresses.

"She's fantastic, and they've done a great job," notes Nick Marx, a veteran of wildlife rescue operations who works in Cambodia for the US-based Wildlife Alliance. "Often you confiscate a bear and think, 'He's not gonna make it.' Many animals would be dead without Free the Bears [where] each one of them gets a chance."

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