She was found by Wildlife Protection officers earlier this month on her way to market in Phnom Penh, where she likely would have been sold to a restaurant and become someone’s next meal.
The roughly 8-year-old Asiatic black bear’s legs were worn bare to the bone after being tied up by poachers for at least a week, and she had been repeatedly beaten on the head. The milk she’d been storing to feed her cubs was unused.
“They probably found her first, then found the babies,” Matt Jeffrey, a volunteer for Free the Bears Fund, said of the animal’s captors. “Now the cubs probably will be sold in markets as pets or to restaurants…to use their paws in soup.”
It’s a story that’s becoming all too common, as broad laws and sporadic enforcement fail to regulate poaching and trafficking of wildlife.
Cambodian officials acknowledge that the illegal activity continues in border provinces, despite occasional efforts by police to close down stalls that sell animal pelts and parts.
Jeffrey said the current law is ineffectual in part because it requires authorities to clearly establish that an animal is for sale before taking action.
Chhun Sareth, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture, said a 100-article draft law with tighter regulations is stalled in Geneva, waiting for international legal advice.
But Environment Minister Mok Mareth said that even when new laws are passed, it will be difficult for the government to remove the financial incentive of wildlife smuggling. Hunters can earn hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by poaching.
“It is very difficult to crack down on poaching animals, because many of the people who do it are very poor,” Mok Mareth said.
In the case of the tortured mother bear, her injuries required two lengthy operations last week, during which she was heavily anesthetized, and her open leg wounds cleaned, treated and sewn up.
Nhim Thy, a veterinarian at the Phnom Tamao Zoological Gardens and Wildlife Rescue Center, estimated last week that recovery would take two months.
Jeffrey, who also works at the zoo, said Monday the bear was in stable condition but still requires an anesthetic before wounds can be dressed. Free the Bears Fund is looking to raise money through donations for ongoing treatment, he said. Meanwhile, the zoo staff remains unsure whether one of her legs will get gangrene and require amputation, Jeffrey added.
And the experience has taken an emotional toll on the bear as well, he said.
“She’s a wild bear living in a cage, and she’s just had her kids taken away. She’s extremely distressed.”
(Additional reporting by Kelly McEvers)