HANOI––People’s Doctor Nguyen Xuan Huong, chair of the Traditional Medicine Association of Vietnam, on July 21, 2010 warned that consuming bear bile products can cause potentially fatal liver and kidney damage.
Huong, who served two terms in the Vietnamese National Assembly, “joined Animals Asia’s campaign to end bear bile farming after seeing the shocking effects of bile consumption on some of his patients, including two government officials who died after taking bear bile tonics,” said Animals Asia Foundation senior writer Angela Leary. “Huong has treated 10 patients for bear bile poisoning since 1985, including two he couldn’t save,” Leary said.
Elaborated Huong, “All had damage to the liver and in most cases, the liver was almost gone. The part that was left was swollen, necrotic and hard.” Huong said other symptoms of bear bile poisoning include loss of appetite, fatigue, red eyes, aches and pains, bloody urine and severe dehydration and perspiration.
Huong rebutted the common claim that bear bile is a traditional medicine. “I’ve read 17,000 traditional medicine formulas and only six mentioned the use of bear bile,” he said, “and even then, its use is minimal and it has little effect. People should never use bear bile. Eighty per cent of those consuming bear bile will have liver damage, and if you mix it with rice wine, the damage will be worse. Even highly educated people still don’t understand the dangers,” Huang continued. “Bear bile serves a purpose in bears. It goes against nature for humans to consume it.”
Huong spoke soon after the Animals Asia Foundation won the release of five moon bears from an illegal bile farm at Ha Long Bay.
Recounted Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson, “The five are among 24 bears who have been subject of a campaign supported by 13 foreign embassies and other animal welfare and conservation groups. Previously, just one bear was transferred to our sanctuary,” Robinson said, “because of bureaucratic red tape and lack of political will. In April 2008 the Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam–in direct contravention of Vietnamese law– decided not to confiscate the remaining 79 bears known to be on bile farms around Ha Long Bay.”
However, Robinson continued, “Following more than two years of lobbying, the Vietnamese environmental police and the local Ha Long police raided the Viet Thai Bear Farm at Dai Yen, outside Ha Long City, on October 2, 2009, and caught employees extracting and selling bear bile to Korean tourists. Five workers and two South Koreans, who were visiting the farm on an organised tour, were detained for questioning. Bile extraction equipment and more than 200 vials containing freshly extracted bear bile were confiscated.
The 24 bears found at the farm had no proof of origin and no microchips as required by law.
“The five rescued bears–four male and one female –arrived at Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Tam Dao National Park on July 1, 2010,” Robinson said. “We hope to see the rest of the illegal bears at Ha Long Bay transferred into our care soon. In 2005 we signed an agreement with the Vietnamese government to rescue 200 bears and care for them at our sanctuary. To date, we have taken in 62 bears,” Robinson noted.
As many as 4,000 bears remain on Vietnamese bile farms.
Vietnamese entrepreneurs have also introduced bear bile farming to Laos, reported Fiona MacGregor of the London Daily Telegraph on August 19, 2010. MacGregor said the eight known Laotian bile farms together have about 100 bears.
Confining bears to small cages to extract their bile appears to have originated in North Vietnam between 25 and 30 years ago. By 1993-1994, when Robinson first exposed the cruelty of the bear bile trade, there were believed to be about 2,500 bears on bile farms in North Korea, and as many as 7,000 in China.
The Chinese bear bile industry has consolidated in recent years. At least 42 bile farms have closed, retiring 276 bears to the Animals Asia Foundation sanctuary near Chengdu. The remaining
Chinese bile farms are believed to still have about 7,000 bears, but there is no longer any bear bile farming in 20 of the 31 mainland provinces, and the market for bear bile appears to be contracting.