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Kwan was a Sun Bear that never really saw the sun. She had been living in a dark room for almost two years.

Abandoned and neglected, she was in a horrific state when she was found in a temple that was serving as a defunct sanctuary by her rescuers, Edwin Wiek and his team at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. Deprived of sunlight and emaciated, the poor bear had lost most of her hair. She no longer resembled a sun bear.

Despite heroic efforts to save her life, Kwan passed away at 2:45 pm the following day.

It is miraculous that she had clung onto to her life for so long. Oblivious and cut off from the outside world, she lived in purgatory, surviving under appalling conditions, only to die in the arms of her saviors. It was almost as if she was waiting for her rescue – a chance not only to see the sun again but to tell her story to the world.

The Story of Kwan the Sun Bear Who Never Saw the Sun Shows Us the Dark Side of the Exotic Pet Trade

Taken From the Wild and Sold to be a Pet

While there is not much information about Kwan’s life before rescue, her story is all too similar to other Sun Bears who have been captured from the wild, funneled through the exotic animal trade and end up abandoned in decrepit “sanctuaries.”

Kwan’s life should have been about being wild and free in the jungle. Instead, her life turned into a horror story when she was cruelly snatched away from her mother who was likely killed by poachers and sold as exotic meat with “medicinal benefits.”

Young, cute and vulnerable, Kwan may have then been sold on the black market as a domestic pet.

Sun bears typically stay with their mothers for two years or more for comfort and protection. Instead, Kwan was taken to live in a small filthy cage with not much room to move and occasionally, depending on their moods, strange humans for company.

Who knows why someone would think it’s a good idea to keep a wild animal? Ignorance may tell them that wild animals can be trained just like a dog or a cat. Stupidity may tell them it’s okay to take ownership of an animal just because they can. One-upmanship may tell them it’s cool to have a pet that is different from the others.

Cool, that is until, bears like Kwan grow up and they discover that their pets are not quite so cuddly.

After being kept in a cage which she would have rapidly outgrown, Kwan was most likely to have become frustrated, overweight, unhealthy and increasingly aggressive.

The Story of Kwan the Sun Bear Who Never Saw the Sun Shows Us the Dark Side of the Exotic Pet Trade


Unable to forage, run, climb trees, choose a mate or be with her own species, Kwan may have developed neurotic stereotypic repetitive behavior, characteristic of animals in captivity. Her paws would have been severely damaged from all that pacing in her metal cage. She may have self-harmed and suffered from repeated wounds and possible infections.

Her owners may have realized that keeping a wild animal as a pet is expensive and not that much fun, after all. Rather than killing Kwan, they decide to “make merit” by donating her to the nearby temple where monks, by virtue of their religion, believe that all living things must be taken care of.

But the monks are no more knowledgeable about raising wild animals than her owners were. Lack of funds and knowledge would have almost guaranteed further ill-treatment for Kwan.

The Story of Kwan the Sun Bear Who Never Saw the Sun Shows Us the Dark Side of the Exotic Pet Trade


It is not clear why Kwan was placed in a dark room for so long. Perhaps, she was more aggressive than the other bears and it was easier to shut her away in the darkness. Judging from the emaciated state she was found in, she was neglected for extensive periods of time. Out of sight, out of mind.

The Story of Kwan the Sun Bear Who Never Saw the Sun Shows Us the Dark Side of the Exotic Pet Trade


Edwin Wiek and his team fought tooth and nail to save Kwan’s life and despite her brave efforts to live, she succumbed to the comfort of her own death.


Saving Other Bears Like Kwan

Kwan passed away from her wretched life but only after she knew she was “safe” to do so. In the last few hours of her freedom, her story captivated the hearts of thousands of people as it played out in the press and on social media.

The Story of Kwan the Sun Bear Who Never Saw the Sun Shows Us the Dark Side of the Exotic Pet Trade


Perhaps in her desire to see the sun for the very last time she inadvertently shone a light of truth on the ignorance of mankind. And faced with the direct and shocking details of her story, we can no longer keep ourselves in the dark.

Kwan’s story has helped the plight of sun bears in captivity. Edwin and his team at WFFT are currently negotiating the release of four remaining bears at the same temple where Kwan was kept. Her life and death, however wretched, has not been in vain.

All images courtesy of Wildlife Friends Foundation

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0 comments on “The Story of Kwan the Sun Bear Who Never Saw the Sun Shows Us the Dark Side of the Exotic Pet Trade”

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3 Years Ago

This is absolutely heartbreaking. I couldn\'t even bring myself to read the full story the pictures speak enough about the horror this beautiful creature went through. So glad she spent her last hours with loving people... We really need to stop the suffering of all these animals, if only it was that easy! :\'(

Pam Covington
3 Years Ago

What a sad, sad story. That this innocent Bear would be forced to suffer so terribly is an abomination. It\'s so hard to believe some people have no regard for the lives of animals. We live in a cruel world.

Marcia Shiel
3 Years Ago

asians are so very cruel From boiling cats and dogs alive to poaching elephants and tigers for their parts that have NO MEDICINAL VALUE to torturing bears for NO BENEFIT either i cannot stand the cruelty Those monks are no better They torture the bears too Why is there a negotiation for the remaining bears when the monks clearly have no compassion for them????? Put their sorry asses in jail and shut down their torture chamber

Terrie Phillips
3 Years Ago

This poor creature didn\'t even look like a bear. I wonder if a human had been caged next to him and treated the same way he was, would we be able to tell he was a human? This story and these pictures should wake people up to the suffering animals endure at the hand of mankind. That animal suffered so that his very being had been altered. The helplessness this bear must have endured day after day is unimaginable.

3 Years Ago

Dear Kwan.. you died so that others may be saved.. your life will not be in vain. xx

3 Years Ago

Way to go monks for proving your just as shitty as everyone else.

23 Mar 2015

Ignorance is a human trait.. sadly : (

Lucy Sheehan
3 Years Ago

I cried myself to sleep last night after reading this story about Kwan - thankyou to WFFT trying to save her. The people of Thailand need to be educated about the precious sun bear - they must realise what a precious species they have in their own country. RIP KwanXX

Barbara Hromada
21 Mar 2015

How very sad, it brought tears to my eyes. That precious soul. Thank you to all the good people that rescued her. Wild animals belong in the wild. She\'s with St.Francis now.

cheah hinds
3 Years Ago

an eye watering story. I hope she is in a better place and enjoying the after life. she suffered so badly. Humans are so far gone they have no compassion for what the animal is feeling. maybe god should flood the earth again. rest in peace kwan

3 Years Ago

Yes, this poor animal was kept in horrifying conditions. BUT in her first pictures, has no bleeding nose or open wounds. I am sure the people rescuing her meant well. But you have to acclimate an animal that was kept in darkness gently. They can die from shock of light alone. And whatever treatment was done trying to save her, left her nose being totally harmed, bleeding and hurt. In her picture sitting in the tent eating you see the full extent of trauma caused by the rescuing team. This was not visible in her first pictures. She got rescued with a nose not injured.They meant well but managed to kill this animal who had endured severe torture for years in less then 24 hours... I am not donating to amateurs.

21 Mar 2015

that\'s like saying some people meant well who kept a child in a cage. keeping a sun bear in a cage in the dark with no sun is saying the meant well? HA I think not

23 Mar 2015

Maria, you\'re an idiot.

Marni Montanez
3 Years Ago

This is despicable. We can\'t just read the story and shake our heads What can we do to stop this cruelty Who do we send our emails and letters to? Is there a petition? Please let me know and I will join the cause......


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