Two abandoned, overweight and rare Malayan sun bears were seized from — of all places — the closed-down Yung Wah garment factories in Kandal province last Thursday.
As more than 1,000 workers protested against the factories’ closure outside, a team from Wildlife Alliance entered the Yung Wah II factory, later emerging with two sun bears — a male and a female — that had been languishing in purpose-built cages behind the building.
Dean Lague, technical adviser for Wildlife Alliance’s rapid rescue team, said his team had been alerted to the presence of the sun bears after factory staff had gone to authorities.
“Having been fed only milk and rice [for a long time], they were chronically overweight, especially the adult male,” Lague said.
According to Wildlife Alliance’s website, the bears were taken to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre.
About 7,000 workers were left stranded when the factory, in Takhmao town, closed without warning in December.
Workers have claimed the Singapore-based owners fled, owing them millions of dollars.
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has said the factory went into liquidation and appointed a lawyer to help repay the workers, a process that continued yesterday.
Soy Sokchea, a worker at Yungwah before its closure, said he believed sun bears — which are considered vulnerable and are illegal to own — had been kept at the factory about 10 years.
“The employer built cages for the bears,” he said. “Not all workers were allowed to go and see them — you had to be friends with the caretakers who let people in when the bosses were away.”
Chuon Vuth, manager of the charity Free the Bears, said both sun bears were at least three years old.
The male weighed 144 kilograms, more than twice the average weight for sun bears, and faced death if its condition did not improve, he said.
“Its body contains a lot of fat from too much feeding without a proper technique,” Vuth said.
“They would not be able to find food for themselves if they were released.”
Hieng Chanthy, the military police commander in Takhmao town, said associates of Yung Wah’s owners claimed the sun bears were not part of a smuggling racket.
“The bears were donated as a gift,” he said.
GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo said he was not aware of the raid.
“Whatever [the owners] choose to do, it’s their decision, but it’s nothing we’re involved in.”
Phone numbers for Yung Wah in Singapore and Cambodia appeared to be disconnected yesterday.
To contact the reporters on this story: Phak Seangly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Shane Worrell at email@example.com
With assistance from Mom Kunthear