En route to the 23rd conference of the IBA in Thessaloniki, Greece, Mi visited some of the world-famous archaeological sites in Athens, and admired a statue of a little bear dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis. This was a beautiful reminder that bears have played an important role in European culture since the rise of European civilization, and they still do. This point was reiterated at the conference during a special session on human-bear conflict. In addition, a session on conservation of Mongolian Gobi bears was attended by representatives of the Mongolian government, further illustrating the importance that some people around the world continue to place on bears and bear conservation.
Mi also heard updated assessments of the conservation status of the eight bear species by the IUCN’s Bear Specialist Group. Six of the eight species of bears are now considered at some risk of extinction, which is a sobering reality in a changing world. As part of the discussion of the status of Asiatic black bears and sun bears, Mi heard about ongoing efforts to reduce the impact of the harvest of these bears’ bile, which is used in some traditional medicinal practices. Mi’s previous travels have not dealt much with the issue of bear bile harvest, but Mi is now gaining much more exposure to this topic.
During the conference, a select committee of international bear biologists decided that Mi could now best serve bear conservation by traveling with Matt Hunt, Chief Executive of Free the Bears Fund, a non-profit, non-governmental organization focused on the conservation of bears in Asia. Since leaving Greece, Matt and Mi have already visited India, Cambodia, Australia, and Laos. So, although Ambassador Mi Ton Teiow has already explored bear conservation in many countries, there are many opportunities for further discovery. Good luck, Mi!