The images in the following program are highly sensitive and may be as disturbing to viewers as they were to us. However, we have to show the truth about cruelty to animals, praying that you will help to stop it.

Today on Stop Animal Cruelty, we present an interview with Mary Hutton, founder of the Australia-based non-profit organization Free the Bears Fund. The group works in Asia to prevent cruelty to bears, conserve their natural habitats, build bear sanctuaries, and inform the public about our responsibility to care for and protect these precious beings.

Ms. Hutton first became involved in safeguarding bears after watching a TV program that revealed the exploitation of Asiatic Black or Moon bears on bile farms throughout Asia. Some who practice Traditional Chinese Medicine, mistakenly believed that bear bile has healing properties.

To obtain the fluid, helpless, innocent bears are imprisoned in miniscule cages and have their bile painfully “milked” from their gall bladders. Ms. Hutton will discuss this process and other ways in which bears are abused in Asia and what her organization is doing to save them.

The bears are kept in very, very small cages. When I first saw about the bile farms back in 1993, these bears were actually jam-packed in a bamboo cage. They were lying on their side, with arms sticking out here, and they couldn’t move. And the way they milk the bile, it’s not with a catheter, which is drawn off like that.

It’s usually with a tap. It's inserted outside. It goes through the wall of the stomach into the gall bladder, and that tap is turned on to milk the bile, and that is so painful. And because it’s so painful, the bear would try to pull it out. So they fix the tap with a steel belt that goes right round the bear’s stomach, and the tap’s attached to that. So, the bear can’t move.

And another reason they're kept in small cages is so they cannot move to take the tap out. And that gets very, very, very, inflamed. It never heals, never heals at all. The food they have to manage to scrape out just by the side of the cage in a tray. And that barely keeps them alive. And the bile is bright yellow when they first start to take it out. But over the time, that bile turns brown. The bear is on the way out, she’s dying. And they let her die.

The bears used for bile production are often illegally raised on farms.

In China, there are probably about 9,000 bears in farms. About four years ago there were only about 400 bears in farms in Âu Lạc (Vietnam). It’s illegal now, bear farming is illegal, but had the law been imposed, they wouldn’t have grown so many. Now there’s about 5,000 in farms in Âu Lạc (Vietnam) as well.

And we’re working very hard with the governments of Laos not to establish farms. We know there are bear farms being set up, but this is of prime importance now to work closely with the government to get these farms closed down, to build new sanctuaries and start looking after them. Because they’re breeding in farms as well.

Another serious problem facing the world’s vulnerable bears is illegal wildlife trafficking

This photograph of a little Asiatic Black bear cub, a man has been caught trying to fly out of Bangkok (Thailand) with live baby animals including leopards, panthers and a bear in his luggage. The animals, which were under two months old, had been drugged and were discovered in the suitcase of a man.

This is a classic case of bear smuggling in the live trade. It is actually second to the drug trade. It raises so much money, smuggling and capturing and selling these wild animals. It brings in as much money as the drug trade.

Cambodia’ s Sun bears are also wantonly exploited. In 1995 Australian businessman John Stephens contacted Mary Hutton after saving some of these bears from death.

I had a call one day from a gentleman called John Stephens. He said, “Can you please help me to get three Sun bears from Cambodia to Australia?" "Because basically," he said, "I'm leaving Cambodia, and I can’t guarantee their safety."

He said, "I’ve been looking after them for a while. They’ve been rescued from the restaurant trade." I said, "What do they do with the bears in restaurants?" He said, "Well, they take their paws off and sell them for bear paw soup."

Ms. Hutton then brought the Sun bears to Australia, and since then has spent much time and effort saving many other Sun bears from this atrocious fate. She also worked diligently to end a savage tradition in India: dancing bears.

The Sloth bears are a very endangered species. The Sloth bears are taken as cubs from the wild. The mother is usually killed, sadly. And the Kalandar people are the people that use these bears for dancing on the roads. So they take the little cubs and they usually shove them under a little wicker basket to completely disorient them and they starve them for a while. And when they come out they’re very submissive.

And then they pierce their nose through the muzzle with a hot needle, and thread that rope through and knock the front teeth out so that they can’t bite the people. And then they're trained to actually dance on the end of the rope by hitting their knees with a little stick or making them jump on hot coals, jumping up and down.

So directly when that pull of the rope happens, the bear jumped up and down automatically. They see that little stick and they start jumping up and down. And those bears live on the roads with those people for many, many years. They're dragged along from place to place in the hot dusty roads. They usually have one roti a day, which is a round piece of bread. They keep the bear alive for entertainment and to earn money on the side of the road from the tourist dollar.

Pinky is one of the long-suffering dancing bears that was saved by one of Free the Bears Funds’ staff members in India.

And this little bear called Pinky was in a shocking mess. She’d had this hole in her nose for a long, long time and it was full of puss. Poison was dripping out of her nose and she was in absolute agony. He (Karthik) said, “She’s got to have immediate attention, because she is so ill. She’s in agony.” He said, “I’ve never seen a bear suffer so much. I don’t know how long she’s been like this.”

Anyway, he rang me in about three month’s time. And he said, “Mary, she’s fine. She’s been recovering in her little den. We put lots of straw in her den. She’s been sucking porridge up through her nose, and everywhere else.” Because they have no teeth, you see.

Through a partnership with the UK-based group International Animal Rescue and the India-based organization Wildlife SOS, Free the Bears Fund has ended the suffering of dancing bears in India. After having rescued over 500 of these animals, the partners successfully freed the last dancing bear in 2009, halting this barbaric tradition in India forever. Free the Bears Fund has also saved the lives of many other bears.

And today we’ve rescued just over nearly 800 bears, Asiatic Sloth bears, Sun bears, (placing them) in all these sanctuaries we’ve created around Southeast Asia and India.

We’ve got four in India, Bhopal, Bannerghatta, Agra and West Bengal and we’ve got a lovely sanctuary in Laos, in the Tat Kuang Si waterfall area. And we’re looking after bears in Tat Kuang Sanctuary, which is further down. And then we just created a new sanctuary, the Mekong Delta (Bear Sanctuary).

And the bears in the Mekong Delta are Asiatics. And these bears, a few of them, have come out of a farm where they’ve been milked for their bile.

How do bears react when they’re finally released into the freedom of a sanctuary? Mary Hutton recalls the touching story of Bertha, and her cub David, both of whom had spent their lives locked in a tiny cage.

They’d been in this terrible cage. There was no enrichment. They hadn’t seen the sun. It was dark and miserable and horrible. We decided Bertha, because she’d been so long in this cage, she would be the first one into the sanctuary.

Well, she got as far as the gate and then she stepped out into the new sanctuary on the grass. She went like this with her paws. She did like cats do when making a bed; pawing all the grass like this. She walked from right where she came into the sanctuary, all the time doing this. She came right to the bottom of the woodpile there.

She sniffed the air like this. The sun was on her face, she sniffed the air. She sat down. She rolled over on her back. She went like this. And she just slept in the sun. She was amazing! I thought, “Yes! We’ve actually done something for a bear,” because that was the first sanctuary we built. And that made an impression on me. I thought, “If we’ve done this, we can do more.”

Ms. Hutton believes that ultimately the key to protecting bears is informing the public about their importance and why they should be left in peace. The group’s wildlife rescue center in Cambodia is providing this information to local communities.

We’ve actually built an education center, the Phnom Tamao Rescue Center, where the little Khmer kids can go in and they can read about the bears, their habitat, why they’re poached, why it’s best to let them be in the forest normally.

So they’ve got a full knowledge of what’s happening in their country to their bears. And it’s putting that seed of knowledge just at a very young age where their little minds can absorb everything. And it’s very important, education, absolutely. It’s the key to anything.

To help the Moon bears and other bear species, please never purchase such items as bear bile medicine and for the sake of all of our animal friends, please avoid all animal products. Our deep appreciation Mary Hutton and all the volunteers and staff at Free the Bears Fund for protecting and improving the lives of hundreds of beautiful, innocent bears in Asia.

You are all truly an inspiration and, like the bears, we’re very grateful to you. We wish you every success in your continued noble efforts to make the lives of all bears safe and happy.

For more information about Free the Bears Fund, please visit

Thank for your thoughtful presence today on our program. May there soon be peace on Earth and goodwill toward all animals in a harmonious, vegan world.