HONG KONG, HANOI––The Animals Asia Foundation is fighting an audacious scheme allegedly advanced by Tam Dao National Park director Do Dinh Tien to evict Animals Asia and 104 moon bears from the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, on the edge of the park, and turn the facilities built at Animals Asia donor expense into a zoo.
The Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, modeled on a similar site operated by Animals Asia in Chengdu, China, rehabilitates bears rescued from bile farms.
“Animals Asia has received information that just days after the Ministry of Defense ordered construction on the second phase of the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre to cease, Do Dinh Tien submitted a proposal to build his own wildlife park in the same area,” Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson told global media on October 19, 2012.
“Tien had lobbied the Ministry of Defence to issue the order for Animals Asia to halt construction, which was followed up by a second order evicting Animals Asia from the land,” Robinson continued. “Recently the Truong Giang Tam Dao Joint Stock Company, which is part-owned by Tien s daughter, applied to build hotels and a tourist development on the same land Animals Asia is being forced to leave. It is believed Mr Tien intends to build his wildlife park to tie in with the Truong Giang tourist development. Once Animals Asia is forced to leave the land and our $2 million bear rescue facility, it is suspected the area will be declared to no longer be of national defence significance, as stipulated by the eviction order, allowing Truong Giang and Tien to proceed with their development plans.”
“The dens and enclosures we have already built would certainly be a convenient asset to the so-called rescue and breeding centre that Tien has applied to establish,” Robinson said. “If Animals Asia is evicted from the site, Tien would have no need to build a new wildlife center. He could make use instead of the existing facilities that were built and paid for by Animals Asia.”
Deutsche Presse-Agentur/MCT correspondent Marianne Brown reported that Animals Asia Vietnam country director Tuan Bendixsen learned the bear sanctuary would be evicted at an October 5, 2012 meeting with representatives of several government ministries. “As word of the case reached newswires and social media, Nguyen Huu Dung, director of the department of forest management, said the government was still considering the case,” Brown added, in a report amplified by the U.S. military newspaper Stars & Stripes.
“The original order, suspending Animals Asia’s second phase of construction, was issued on July 9, 2012,” the Animals Asia Foundation summarized in a media release. “Tien’s rescue center proposal was submitted on July 17, 2012, only eight days after the original order. Tien has been pressuring Animals Asia to relinquish the land since April 2011. Closure of the rescue center would have a severe impact,” the Animals Asia Foundation continued. “More than 100 bears, rescued from bear bile farms and smugglers, would lose their homes. Seventy-seven Vietnamese staff would lose their jobs. Animals Asia would lose $2 million worth of investment in building and development.
“The local economy that depends on the center would be severely impacted, and the Vietnamese government s commitment to ending bear bile farming would be called into question,” Animals Asia projected.
“The Forest Protection Department works very hard to save bears from bile farms,” Bendixsen offered. “But if they have nowhere safe to take confiscated bears, they will have to leave them in the farms, and what kind of deterrent will that be to the industry?”
“The nation of Vietnam itself might also become a big economic loser. One thing that is appalling more and more people is the risk to confidence about working or investing in Vietnam, whether as a business or as a charity,” Robinson said, “when a project that has the approval of the prime minister himself is no longer worth the paper on which it is written, just when so many authorities there were rightly convincing the world that Vietnam has a genuine desire and commitment to encourage and enhance environmental programs. How one man can turn this on its head is beyond us all.”
“The scheme emerged,” reported Brown of Deutsche Presse-Agentur/MCT, “after The Truong Giang Tam Dao Joint Stock Company, set up in April 2011, sought permission to rent 48 hectares of land from the national park, under legislation introduced in 2011 allowing tourist resorts with environmental credentials to be built on park land. But six hectares of the planned development is on land that Animals Asia says is theirs under an agreement with the Agriculture Ministry. They hope to build enough enclosures to house 101 more bears, implementing the second phase of their $3.4 million project. However, in September 2011, as soon as soon as workers began digging for the foundations of the new bear enclosure, they were told to stop.
“Animals Asia contends that Do Dinh Tiens daughter is one of the four founders of the Truong Giang development company, a claim Do Dinh Tien has reportedly denied, but which appeared to be borne out by the company’s registration papers,” Brown continued. “The phone number and registration address given were for a grocery shop, whose owner told Deutsche Presse-Agentur she had no knowledge of a development company.”
As the conflict gained publicity, the Vietnamese Department of Natural Conservation claimed paperwork was missing, apparently stalling for time.
“National parks in good locations are hot property at the moment,” Brown wrote.
“I am under a lot of pressure dealing with land disputes between eco-tourism projects and conservationists,” Department of Natural Conservation director Tran The Lien told her.
Reported Adrain Bowden of CNN on October 19, 2012, “Comic actor Ricky Gervais and broadcaster Stephen Fry are among the many people who have used Twitter to call on Vietnam to lift the threat to shut the Bear Rescue Center.”
Said Bendixsen, “We hope Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is aware that the directive he issued in 2008 is being undermined by a park director and his undue influence over the Ministry of Defence. This is not a defence issue; it s an issue of profit. We believe Tien seeks to benefit from land that the prime minister promised for bears who have suffered in Vietnam s bile trade for too long. This one man, whose daughter stands to directly profit from the relocation of the center, should not be allowed this much power.”
At least 32 organizations from 14 nations co-signed an October 2012 Animals Asia Foundation appeal to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, asking him to intervene in this matter and ensure that the rescue center remains in Tam Dao National Park, and that the Animals Asia team is allowed to continue their vital rehabilitation and education work in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development.
Speaking at the Animals Asia Foundation bear sanctuary dedication in April 2008, Do Dinh Tien called it, “A kind of model to educate all people so that they will not abuse the wildlife, a tool to raise awareness about the laws and to enforce them effectively.” But Tien, heading Tam Dao National Park since it opened in 1996, has pursued several other economic development schemes involving park resources.
The Tam Dao Botanic Garden, founded in 1997 and opened to the public in 2000, features “Native plants of the Tam Dao region and National Park,” according to data submitted to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, but produces “Mainly plants of economic importance such as medicinals, fruit trees, fodder, food and fiber plants.”
Vietnam Investment Review in July 2010 touted a project involving Do Dinh Tien called “Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation,” said to be the first of its kind in Vietnam, begun by the locally-owned Vietnam Carbon Exchange Company and the Australian-funded Voluntary Credit Company. The concept of carbon credits is that companies whose industrial processes produce greenhouse gases, thereby contributing to global warming, can avoid the cost of changing their methods to produce fewer greenhouse gases if they invest in growing trees that will absorb greenhouse gases.
“Under the 30-year long project,” said Vietnam Investment Review, “the forest will be able to absorb 50,000-60,000 tons of biomass and create 40,000-50,000 tons of carbon credits each year, according to data from by project technical chief Phan Minh Sang.
“Unlike some other forestation projects in Vietnam that engage in planting forests, Vietnam Investment Review continued, “the Vietnam Carbon Exchange s project is involved in conservation and bio-diversity of the natural forests.”
In other words, the idea was and is to sell carbon credits for protecting the trees already growing in Tam Dao National Park, which is already protected habitat, without actually planting any new forest to increase the global carbon absorption capacity.
“The project will benefit nearly 200,000 local inhabitants whose lives depend on the park’s forest and help protect thousands of animal and plant species in the park,” claimed Do Dinh Tien.
The threat to the future of the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre emerged into public view only days after the World Conservation Congress, hosted in Jeju, South Korea, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, on September 14, 2012 passed a resolution encouraging Korea and Vietnam to continue ongoing efforts to end bear farming and urging other nations that have bear farms to work toward their reduction and eventual elimination. The resolution asked nations that have bear farms to work with the IUCN to close down illegal bear farms, issue no further licenses or permits for bear farms, prevent an increase in bear numbers on existing farms, ensure that no wild-caught bears are added to farms, research bear bile substitutes, and establish a monitoring system to track trends in wild bear populations.
“Importantly, the resolution calls for a scientifically independent, peer-reviewed situation analysis of whether all these points have been followed,” said Robinson. “The study would focus on how bear farming affects the conservation of wild bears. A report will be made to the next World Conservation Congress in 2016, possibly prompting further action at that time,” Robinson said.
China Association of Traditional Medicine director Fang Shuting reportedly told a media conference that, “The process of extracting bear bile is as easy, natural and painless as turning on a tap.”
Responded Animals Asia Foundation veterinary surgeon Monica Bando, “The free drip method of bile extraction can cause great harm and pain to farmed bears. Analysis of 165 bears who were farmed using the free drip method of bile extraction, before coming to Animals Asia s bear sanctuary near Chengdu, found that 163 had cholecystitis, 109 had gall bladder polyps, 56 had abdominal herniation, 46 had internal absesses, 36 had gallstones, and seven had peritonitis. Many of the bears had multiple combinations of these conditions.”
The Animals Asia Foundation believes that as many as 14,000 moon bears are kept tightly caged, milked for their bile, on farms in China, both North and South Korea, Vietnam, and Laos.