A CUPAR grandmother has forsaken birthday treats in favour of charity donations in a bid to help save bears in south-east Asia from what can literally be a fate worse than death.
Thanks to the generosity of the guests at her recent 60th birthday party, animal-loving Marion MacDonald raised £1000, which she will take with her when she travels to Cambodia in February to work in a bear sanctuary near the country’s capital Phnomh Penh.
She has already paid her travel costs by saving her earnings from her two part-time jobs.
The sanctuary was founded by 71-year-old Australian Mary Hutton as a result of the horrifying TV footage she’d seen of Asiatic black bears in tiny cages with crude iron catheters inserted into their gall bladders to extract their bile, an ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
Now there are over a hundred bears at the ‘Free the Bears’ Sanctuary, many of which have been rescued from unspeakably cruel circumstances.
Some are rescued from restaurants where they would have been butchered for their paws to make bear paw soup; others are freed from the black market where their gall bladders and other parts are sold for medicine or souvenirs, and others have been saved from poachers selling orphaned cubs as status symbols.
And it’s thanks to the Free the Bears Fund that the sight of a dancing bear being dragged through the streets of India by a rope through its nose is a thing of the past.
The sanctuary, which is situated within a wildlife rescue centre, provides a safe haven where the bears live in forested enclosures furnished with pools, rocks, hammocks and lush vegetation.
Marion has already made trips to Egypt to help in an animal charity and to Thailand, where she worked in an elephant sanctuary.
But she fears the Cambodian visit may be her most harrowing yet.
She said: “Many of the bears don’t make it as they are riddled with infection from the metal catheters.
“Some only have three legs, having been snared in traps, and others have never even known what it’s like to walk on grass.
“The cruelty some of these bears have to endure is nothing short of barbaric and it’s heartbreaking to see their dignified, trusting faces.
“The money raised at my birthday party will go a long way towards rescuing more bears and help with the running of the centre.”
Anyone who would like to help the bears’ cause can do so by leaving donations at Wilson and Partners’ veterinary practice in Bonnygate, Cupar, or by calling Marion on 07599 430908.
For more information about the work of the sanctuary, visit www.freethebears.org.au