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Sun bear caretaker earns global prize

Sun bear caretaker earns global prize

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Chuon Vuthy, country program manager of an Australia-based NGO that works to rescue endangered bears and educate people about the need to protect them and their environment, yesterday became the first Cambodian to win the Future for Nature Award at a ceremony in the Netherlands, Free the Bears said.

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“I feel as nervous as the rescued bears do when they first arrive here,” Chuon Vuthy, 32, told the Post before leaving for Amsterdam last weekend.

The €50,000-euro award will be used to help fund three projects run by the NGO, which cares for 118 sun bears and Asiatic black bears at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre in Takeo province.

The Future for Nature Award was a global award given to three outstanding young conservationists who were having a real impact in protecting endangered species, Free the Bears CEO Matt Hunt said.

Chuon Vuthy was among three winners selected from more than 60 applicants from over 30 countries, Hunt said.

Chuon Vuthy has been with Free the Bears since its inception in Cambodia in 1997.

Then, there were only six bears at the centre.

Now, there were 118, ranging from three months old to about 25 years old, Chuon Vuthy said, adding he knew each by name.

The bears are named by sponsors who donate US$3,000 a year to what Hunt describes as “the world’s biggest sanctuary for the world’s smallest bear species”.

Free the Bears is expanding to larger quarantine enclosures, a new clinic and a more extensive educational program.

Chuon Vuthy said he hoped that in the future, Cambodians would increasingly treasure their environment, including forests and animals, with the full support of the government.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vincent MacIsaac at [email protected]

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