HONG KONG––Local authorities in Quang Ninh province, Vietnam “have agreed to completely end bear bile farming in the province by transferring all of the remaining 38 bears [still on bile farms] to Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre,” publicists Maya Gottfried and Steve Jackson of the Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation announced on April 23, 2015.
“The Quang Ninh government has agreed to reward each farmer who complies with the transfer,” Gottfried and Jackson said in a media release. “In return Animals Asia has agreed to cover the cost of the bear rescues, housing, rehabilitation and subsequent care.”
The 17 remaining bear bile farmers in Quang Ninh authorities are to begin surrendering the bears in their custody on May 5, 2015, when two bears are to be transported “from a remote island in the Bai Tu Long bay archipelago north of Halong Bay,” Gottfried and Jackson said. “The transfer of all 38 bears in the province is expected to be complete in June,” they added.
Prime ministerial directive
The bears will be “transferred in accordance with a prime ministerial directive from March,” elaborated Animals Asia Foundation Vietnam director Tuan Bendixsen. “The language was very strong and bear bile farmers were left in no doubt that this is not an optional transfer. Farmers have been informed that any attempt to transfer bears out of the province would meet prosecution while any further bear deaths prior to the rescues would not be tolerated.”
“The bear bile tourism industry in Halong Bay began around 2007 after six bear farms were established,” reported Thanh Nien News. “They would receive busloads of tourists, mainly Korean, to witness the extraction of bile from a live bear before being encouraged to buy the bile and other bear products, all illegal.”
Four bear bile farms in the Halong Bay region were closed in 2013, but two others “continued to defy the law, selling bear bile to tourists,” Education for Nature – Vietnam told Thanh Ninh News. Those two were closed in October 2014.
But bears remained on farms in the Halong Bay region.
Animals Asia Foundation representatives in November 2014 “inspected three bile farms in the Halong Bay region,” Gottfried and Jackson said. “They found bears being kept in appalling conditions, many of whom were missing limbs. The majority were dangerously malnourished.”
The Animals Asia Foundation initiated an international campaign seeking to have the 49 bears on the three inspected farms be transferred to the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre. Thirty of the bears died before Quang Ninh officials agreed to facilitate the transfers.
“Across the province a similar decline has been observed,” wrote Gottfried and Jackson. “At the end of 2013, the province was holding 152 bears, a number which fell to 82 by late 2014 and now stands at just 38.
Banned trade continued
Keeping bears to extract bile and sell body parts has technically been illegal in Vietnam since 1992, but continued regardless.
“In 2005, 4,239 bears held in captivity were microchipped and farmers allowed to keep the bears on the understanding that they would never again extract bile,” Gottfried and Jackson recounted.
The numbers of bears remaining on bile farms throughout Vietnam dropped to 2,400 in 2012, 1,987 in 2014, and 1,245 as of March 2015.
Officially the bears have been dying of old age. Bendixsen for one is skeptical.
“These numbers suggest that what we’ve seen happening in Halong Bay, where farmers have publicly confessed that their bears are starving to death, could be happening on a vast scale,” Bendixsen said. “Most worryingly, we have received unconfirmed report that bears are being deliberately killed and their body parts sold on the black market, as bear farmers look for ways to recoup as much as they can from the bears.”
This is apparently occurring even though, Gottfried and Jackson said, “For every captive bear that dies, the authorities are required to carry out an autopsy to confirm the cause of death, and to oversee the disposal and burial of the corpse to prevent body parts being illegally sold on the black market.”
(See also http://www.animals24-7.org/2015/03/07/horrific-events-spark-rise-of-animal-advocacy-in-vietnam/, http://www.animals24-7.org/2013/01/16/animals-asia-foundation-saves-vietnam-bear-rescue-centre-and-halts-zimbabwechina-baby-elephant-deal-in-same-week/, and http://www.animals24-7.org/2012/11/17/vietnam-bear-rescue-centre-fights-takeover-attempt-by-zoo-promoter/.)