In 2006, the Vietnamese government legislated for the protection of the Asiatic Black Bear Ursus Thibetanus and Malayan Sun Bear Helarctos malayanus. This indisputably means that any hunting, trapping, possessing, killing, selling or advertising of these bears or their products in Vietnam is illegal.
As the Vietnamese Government did not have the facilities necessary to care for the rescued animals at the time, anyone in possession of bears was required to care for them until the end of their natural life. In reality, however, caring for a bear is expensive, and so many bear owners continued to tap their bile in order to generate income. Over the years the rescue centers have been built to house confiscated animals from those who have been caught violating the law, and this coupled with natural deaths has resulted in a significant drop in numbers still left in captivity. Despite this, the practice of tapping bear bile continues as evidenced by USAID – funded Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) program partners Freeland and Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) recent visit to a number of facilities just outside Hanoi. The shops display signs, do not advertise bear bile explicitly, but clearly indicate to potential would-be customers that bears are present. One sign even blatantly advertised bear bile.
Bear bile is used in traditional Asian medicine, and is believed to relieve internal heat while supposedly also performing a myriad of other cures. As it is now illegal, the increase in enforcement and awareness especially by ENV has made bear bile less sought after as a medicinal product. Demand, however, is still high enough to encourage operators who still own bears to break the law and continue to supply bear bile. The bears that remain in captivity are often confined to coffin-sized cages with restricted movements. The techniques involved in bile farming is even more torturous; this can range from large needles with catheters are pierced into their gall bladders, free-dripping techniques which involves constant draining of the gallbladder or simple crude surgery to remove the bile. Physical and physiological pain is inevitable.
ENV, with support from World Animal Protection (WAP), has been leading national efforts in Vietnam to end bear farming and trade since 2004. Since 2005, the number of bears on bear farms in Vietnam has been reduced from about 5,000 to fewer than 2,000 bears. The market for bear bile is decreasing with prices falling, and steadily mounting pressure by enforcement and the public to end this cruel and illegal form of business. As ARREST partners Freeland and ENV stress the need for organizations to work together to continue to reduce demand and trade by helping to investigate and monitor the trade, working with governments and law enforcement, and providing education and awareness to the public.
If you are reading this blog, you are already making a difference. The next step lies in helping to spread the word and to let as many people as you can know that consuming bear bile is a cruel and inhumane practice which is putting wild populations of bears at risk of extinction. As demand drives supply, the answer lies in the decisions you, your family and friends make whether it’s about bear bile or the consumption of any other endangered or protected species. In this day and age, where synthetic and herbal alternatives are readily available, there should be no need or excuse for tolerating the inhumane harvesting bear bile.
Film produced by Education for Nature Vietnam as part of their end bear farming campaign in partnership with World Animal Protection