Vuthy Chuon came in contact with Free the Bears in 1996, when he dropped out of high school to work in their brand new Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre so he could support his family. He praised himself lucky with the opportunity to work for an international NGO and practice his English with international volunteers. When in 2009 a sun cub died in Vuthy’s arms due to a bite of an adult bear, he decided to return to school part-time so he could become a vet and would be able to provide emergency veterinary care to the animals he is responsible for at the sanctuary.
“Vuthy Chuon is clearly an exceptionally motivated individual who genuinely cares for animals, both their welfare and wellbeing, as well as the survival of the species. It goes far beyond being an intelligent and effective conservationist on a good career path. It is about inspiration.” – 2012, Masha Vorontsova, International Selection Committee
Vision and Approach
The sun bear and the Asian black bear are both threatened with extinction as their habitat is destroyed and they are illegally hunted for the thriving trade in bear body parts for traditional Asian medicine. Besides this, there is a demand for bear cubs for the trade in bears as exotic pets. Vuthy is strongly motivated to stop the illegal hunting and trading on these species. By generating local appreciation for wild bears, whilst simultaneously building a facility for the placement of each live bear confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade, Vuthy has ensured that bear farming has never been allowed to gain a foothold in Cambodia.
Impact of the Future For Nature Award
- The financial support of the Future For Nature Award made it possible to set up a group of community based rangers who protect the forest and the animals.
- A mobile education bus was developed. This bus tours around the country and helps locals understand why the Asian bears in the wild should be protected and shows how they can protect nature and wildlife themselves.
- The Bear Discovery Trail in the sanctuary was completed. This trail educates visitors of the sanctuary how to protect wildlife and look after animals in captivity.
“Since I won the Future For Nature Award, things have been moving incredibly fast. Early 2016, we already had 123 bears at our sanctuary. Part of the prize money has been used to develop new education facilities at the sanctuary so we can help Cambodian people to understand why we have to protect these bears and to make sure they never support the illegal wildlife trade.” – Vuthy Chuon