The Bear Care Group is a non-profit group dedicated to the continued organization of international bear husbandry conferences, programs, publications, and resources for bear caregivers at sanctuaries, rehabilitation facilities, and zoos. This website provides the most recent information and easy access to all conference needs including; conference and hotel registration, transportation info, and more.

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The Bear Care Group was delighted to partner with the Animals Asia Foundation to bring the Advancing Bear Care 2015 – Vietnam workshop to Hanoi, Vietnam on October 29 – November 1. We would like to thank them for their hard work and dedication in planning and executing logistical details that made this workshop such a success.



Bears living in wild environments express daily and seasonal routines as dictated by their genetic programming. Captive bears experience the same drives and will set up similar living routines when given the internal and external environment to do so. The ability to express species-specific behaviors reduces stressors inherent in captive living and promotes physical and mental health. At this dynamic bear husbandry workshop we presented the principles of behavior-based bear husbandry, environmental enrichment, operant conditioning, and veterinary care.  We further explored wild bear behavior, enclosure design and redesign, furnishing a bear enclosure, enrichment programming, bear nutrition and diet, daily and seasonal husbandry routines, integration and social groupings, operant conditioning to promote husbandry, and veterinary and bear welfare practices.



International delegates arrived in Hanoi from fifteen different countries including Malaysia, Singapore, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Lao PDR, China, Taiwan, Australia, England, Scotland, Switzerland, France, Canada and the USA, from organizations as varied as zoos, sanctuaries, and animal welfare groups. Vietnam was well represented with managers, veterinarians, and zookeepers from the Hanoi Zoo, Hanoi Wildlife Rescue Center, Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary, and Four Paws Viet – Wildlife Conservation Center. We thank everyone for participating by sharing your knowledge and challenges, all with the aim of helping the bears in your charge back home. It was an incredible time of networking and lending support between like-minded bear caregivers.


Without sponsors an educational event such as this could not take place. We wish to thank Hauser Bears for their generous steadfast support of the Bear Care Group’s educational programs and projects.  We also wish to thank Polar Bears International for their generous support of our projects. Thank you to both the Winton Foundation for the Welfare of Bears and to Behavioral and Environmental Solutions for their kind support of this workshop.  We very much appreciate the donation of a travel bursary by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) which helped to bring experienced bear rehabilitators to the event for a meeting about the future potential of bear rehabilitation and release in Asia. We also very much appreciate the donation of digital equipment by IFAW which assisted us in providing educational materials to all of the delegates. We wish to gratefully acknowledge the support of Dang Gia Tung, President of Hanoi Zoological Gardens, and the staff of the Hanoi Zoo for hosting the practicums and assisting with the many details of conference planning. Thank you also to Trinh Bich Thuy and the wonderful staff of the Thang Loi Hotel for the incredible customer service.



The Advancing Bear Care conferences and workshops are powered entirely by volunteers.  Prior to the workshop, volunteers worked tirelessly across borders and oceans to put together a workshop that provided a format for learning, information sharing, and networking to further captive bear care globally.  We wish to thank and highlight the tremendous efforts by Jill Robinson (Founder & CEO), Tuan Bendixson (Vietnam Director), Annemarie Weegenaar (Bear & Vet Team Director), and Nguyen Tam Thanh (Animal Welfare Officer), of the Animals Asia Foundation, for their leadership and tireless effort in planning the workshop.  We also wish to recognize the special efforts of Hoang Thi Ngoc Nhung, Le Thi Yen, Nguyen Bao Ngoc, Phan Thuy Trinh, Sarah Dempsey, Dao Chau Tuan, Kelly Donithan, Hoang Van Chien, Truong Thanh Van, Yan Ng Weng and others for their long hours of work translating the presentations and abstracts, assisting with logistical planning for the workshop, working with the hotel and the Hanoi Zoo, and planning the tours and practicums at the Vietnam Bear Rescue Center.  We also wish to thank Angela Gibson for compiling the program materials on flash drives for each delegate and assisting with running the workshop. 



Our speakers provided years of education and practical experience in their programs and workshops. Thank you to all for their hard work and dedication.


Mindy Babitz, PhD, is a senior animal keeper at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park where she has worked since 1998.  Having worked with a variety of bears, cats, primates, hoofstock, and small carnivores, she is now primarily responsible for the zoo’s sloth bears.  She has worked with sloth bears since 2001 and is currently the National Zoo’s institutional representative to the AZA Sloth Bear SSP. Mindy has a background in animal behavior and cognition, completing a BA from the University of Virginia and a PhD from the University of St. Andrews in Psychology. She currently conducts research on stereotypical behavior in sloth bears and is primarily interested in improving husbandry and management of sloth bears in zoos.  Mindy is on the Board of Directors of the Bear Care Group, serving as the Interim Vice President and Treasurer.


Heather Bacon, BSc (Hons), BVSc, Cert Zoo Med MRCVS, is the Veterinary Welfare Education and Outreach Manager at the University of Edinburgh’s Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education, a position supported by the Animals Asia Foundation. She lectures on captive wildlife welfare issues, and has worked with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG), Shape of Enrichment and Animals Asia to improve zoo animal welfare in China. She has also worked with the European Commission to develop continuing education on captive wildlife welfare in Europe, and provides consultancy services to zoos and NGO’s on bear husbandry and welfare issues. Previously, she worked as the Veterinary Director at the Animals Asia Foundation, an NGO working to end the trade in bear bile across Asia.  Heather is on the Board of Directors of the Bear Care Group.


Sarah Dempsey, BSc (Hons), is a Bear manager at Animals Asia Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre in Tam Dao. She manages a large population of Asiatic black bears and Malayan sun bears. Besides daily management of the bear population and staff she develops and oversees the facility's enrichment and behavioral management programs. Sarah grew up in the UK where she completed her BSc (Hons) in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, joining Animals Asia in 2012 having previously worked at ZSL London Zoo and other zoological institutes in the USA and Australia with a range of taxa.


Else Poulsen, BSc Dipl Zookeeper began her career in animal behavior in the early 1980's working as a field biologist in Alberta’s oil patch. When the bottom dropped out of the energy industry she became an entry level zookeeper at the Calgary Zoo working with a wide variety of animal species, from toads to tigers. Over time Else developed a keen interest in large carnivore behavior and specialized in captive bear behavior, husbandry, and management. She was led to research aberrant behaviors in captive bears, publish her findings, and advocate for change. After 18 years at the Calgary Zoo Else left to work at the Detroit Zoo, and then several bear specialist facilities in Canada. As the founding consultant for Behavioral & Environmental Solutions she provides expertise on modernizing bear husbandry methods, environmental enrichment programming, and enclosure design and redesign to zoos, sanctuaries, rehabilitation facilities, and animal welfare groups around the world. Else has over forty publications to her name including peer reviewed journals, technical journals, articles for the media, and a bit part in the textbook Stereotypic Animal Behavior – Fundamentals and Applications to Welfare, 2nd Edition. Her first bear behavior book titled Smiling Bears – A Zookeeper Explores the Behavior and Emotional Life of Bears was published in May 2009. Her second bear book, Bärle’s Story - One Polar Bear's Amazing Recovery from Life as a Circus Act was released in Spring 2014. Else is the founding president of the Board of Directors for the Bear Care Group. She currently holds the Past President and Director positions, and acts as the advisor to the board executive.


Jason Pratte (Jay), BSc, MA, has been an animal caregiver for over two decades working with all eight bear species. His primary focus is the training of animals and their caregivers in behaviors that improve husbandry and accomplish complex medical procedures such as blood draws. Jay has trained animal care staff in operant conditioning techniques at major facilities around the world including the Chengdu Panda Reproduction Facility in China. This work was featured in the Animal Planet program "Growing Up Panda". He has held positions at numerous Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited facilities including the Calgary Zoo, the Little Rock Zoo, and Zoo Atlanta. Currently he is the Animal Training Coordinator at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.  Jay serves with the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) on their National Behavioral Management and Grants Committees. He is published in peer-reviewed technical journals, and co-edits the Training Tales column in the AAZK journal Animal Keepers Forum. Jay is also an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, having created a special class on Human-Animal Interactions with Dr. Rosemary Strasser.  Jay is a founding Director of the Bear Care Group, serving as the interim president of the organization.


Jill Robinson MBE, Dr. med. vet. h.c., has been a pioneer of animal welfare in Asia since 1985, and has spent over 22 years campaigning against the cruel bear bile industry in China and Vietnam. In 1998, she founded Animals Asia, an organization that is devoted to improving the welfare of animals in China and Vietnam by promoting compassion and respect, and working to bring about long-term change. Jill has built the organization into a respected international NGO with over 300 staff, three core programs (ending bear bile farming, companion animal welfare, and captive animal welfare), the rescue of over 530 bile farm bears, and award-winning bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam.


Lorraine Scotson, BSc, is a Scottish field biologist and PhD Candidate based in Southeast Asia. She obtained a BSc in Animal Care at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland in 2005 and in 2011 joined the Conservation Biology PhD Program with the University of Minnesota, USA. Since 2005 she has researched aspects of distribution, ecology and population status in relation to anthropogenic pressures of Sun bears and Asiatic black bears in Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR. Through her PhD research, since 2010 to present, Lorraine has mapped the range of bears across the entire Lao PDR, resulting in the first detailed information on the status of bears in this country.  Her past and current research focuses include aspects of bear re-introduction, human-bear conflict and illegal hunting and trade. Lorraine has been a member of the IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group Trade in Bear Parts Expert Team since 2013. She has worked to develop a formal collaboration between TRAFFIC SE Asia and the BSG, assisting in the development of an MoU to enhance collection and sharing of data on illegal bear trade. She has also spent much time investigating bear farming in Asia and how it may pertain to the conservation of wild bears.



Afternoons consisted of workshops where delegates could present real-life bear care problems and possible solutions were discussed as they related to behavior-based husbandry, environmental enrichment, operant conditioning or veterinary care.  Focus was placed on the problem-solving method of reviewing natural history, individual history and current conditions for each animal discussed.



Poster presentations were available throughout the conference and contributing organizations included the Bioresource Research Center (PK), Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (MY), Moulton College, Manchester University & Welsh Mountain Zoo (UK), Northwest Trek Wildlife Park (USA), Wildlife SOS (IN), and Wild Welfare (UK). Topics included sex-specific seasonal body weight changes, sun bear conservation, evidence-based husbandry using observational research, training for participation in veterinary care, and welfare in Japan’s Bear Parks.



We are grateful to our film presenters Patrick Rouxel, Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani, and Lesley Winton for sharing their knowledge and their art.  Our premiere feature was a test screening of Patrick Rouxel’s latest film “Life is One”, a story of three orphan sun bear cubs and their return to the wild.  Lesley Winton presented the Winton Foundation for the Welfare of Bears’ 5th Anniversary Film, and Kartick Satyanaryan & Geeta Seshamani presented “The Last Dance”, a documentary about Wildlife SOS’s work to rescue the dancing bears.



On Friday, October 30th, delegates spent the afternoon at the Hanoi Zoological Gardens participating in an enrichment practicum and attending animal training and health assessment demonstrations.  Delegates rolled up their sleeves and put together a hammock which was provided to the bears at the end of the day.  Jay Pratte demonstrated training basics with the bears, while Dr. Heather Bacon performed a health assessment on each animal.  Working in tandem in this way, these two professionals illustrated the importance of team work to reduce the stressors inherent in captive living for bears.



On Sunday, November 1st, AAF’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Center (VBRC) graciously hosted our delegates, allowing us the opportunity to view their beautiful rescue center and learn about the bears that now call this center their home.  VBRC is currently home to over 130 bears (Asiatic black bears and Malayan sun bears) living in over 10,000 square meters of semi-natural outdoor enclosure space designed to stimulate the bears’ natural behavior, at the border of Tam Dao National Park.  Delegates also attended enrichment, training and veterinary practicums on site, and assisted staff in setting out enrichment for the bears.