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The Wild Animal Refuge in Springfield, Colorado, has welcomed the arrival of 22 Moon Bears from Seoul, South Korea after they were rescued from bear farms. “Project Free: The Bear” is a collaboration between the Korean Animal Welfare Association (KAWA), based in Seoul, and The Wild Animal Sanctuary (TWAS), which is a registered U.S. non-profit organization based in Colorado.

TWAS, founded in 1980,  is one of the largest carnivore sanctuaries in the world. It operates in Colorado and Texas, keeping over 700 rescued animals, including lions, tigers, bears, wolves, leopards and other large carnivores. The Wild Animal Refuge (TWAR) is the largest sanctuary they have (10,000 acres) with natural forested habitat for Bears.

Thanks to an agreement between bear farmers and the Korean government, all captive Moon Bears living in South Korea were sterilized in 2017, but farmers were still allowed to kill and harvest gallbladders from bears 10 years of age or older. In 2020, KAWA requested the assistance of TWAS with saving the Bears. The pandemic delayed the process, but finally, the bears have been moved to the sanctuary. It is still legal to kill bears in South Korea to remove their whole gall bladder for use in Traditional Asian medicine, but with a new agreement signed on 26th of January 2022 between the government and the farmers, both signatories have agreed that this practice will also be illegal from 2026, ending this industry once and for all. Around 1,400 bears were kept in the Korean bile bear industry in the mid-2000s, but after the sterilisation programme, the captive bear population declined by 75%. At the beginning of this year, there were still 360 bears remaining on Korean farms, 119 of which were set to be taken to the government’s two new shelters in Guyre-gun and Seocheon-gun, and now 22 have been taken to the US.