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Closing of «bile farms» in Vietnam. The end of an ordeal for Asian bears?

Good news! On Wednesday 19th of July 2007, the NGO Animal Asia  and the Vietnamese forests administration (VNFOREST) signed an historical deal to definitely close the bile farms and to free 1200 bears still captive. An other deal was signed in 2015 with the Vietnamese organization of traditional medicine to stop bile prescription by 2020. This delay should allow the creation of a additional sanctuary to gather bears, which cost would be 20 millions dollars.

bile farms bear

© Animal Asia

Bear bile, flagship product of Asian traditional medicine

The bear bile acid is usually used in Asian traditional medicine to cure gall bladder and liver disease. It is known as well to have aphrodisiac virtues and the ability to remove hemorrhoids. Today, the bear bile is even prescribed for any kind of pain, from a sore throat to cancer.

That’s why, for thousands of years, bears have been hunted and killed in Asia. These past decades, the bear population in Asia dropped dramatically, classifying it in the vulnerable category in the red list of UICN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). In order to drop pressure on wild population, the first farm specialized in bile extraction appears in South Korea in 1980. China and Vietnam will quickly followed.

In reality, the problem hasn’t been solved and the bear hunt persists. After scrutinizing bears originating from the farms, Animal Asia affirms that some bears are amputated or show signs that they have been captured. Several reasons explain that phenomenon:

  • The industrialization of this activity led to a huge marketing of this product and it promoted the increase of the demand.

  • Farms are expensive in equipment and staff. Henceforth, it is cheaper to directly hunt the bear.

  • Inside these establishments, the breeding is difficult. Thus, the majority of farms are wild.

  • The bile from a wild bear is considered of better quality.

The bear exploitation for their bile: a cruel and useless industry

Bears are locked in narrow cages in which they can barely move. Without anesthesia, a catheter connected to the gall bladder is introduced. Bile is pumped twice a day. Bears are voluntarily starved and dehydrated in order to produce more bile. Animals handle this torture daily until they die from many infections and diseases caught in these conditions. Many don’t survive a month, but some bears live this hell for 15 to 30 years.

You can watch the explicative video «put an end to the bear breeding used for their bile» directed by Animals Asia:

Today, the bile extraction is more than useless because there are fifties of legal herbal alternatives. Thus there are no reasons to carry on this industry. Moreover, the bile consumption has been proved and recognized dangerous by several doctors. Indeed, bile contains many bacterias and toxins due to the extraction conditions sparsely controled and cases of poisoning or death have been discovered with persons who consumed bile.

The director of the Vietnam traditional medicine organization, Nguyen Xusn Huong, followed 10 patients who had a bile poisoning. He noticed damages in kidneys, the liver, as well as in the blood and in urine.

An illegal activity persisting in Vietnam

The law imperfection and the increasing demand explain the persistence of this activity.

Theoretically, bile farms are banned in Vietnam since 1992. In 2005, a more specific regulation emerged and exclusively forbid the bear breeding for their bile. However, the ownership of a bear as a pet is allowed, but without regular and rigorous controls, it is difficult to verify if the owners exploit them for their bile.

The government doesn’t have the financial and human means to enforce this law. Unlike industrial farms in China, the Vietnamese farms are within a family and frequently possess one or two bears. Thus, only in Hanoi, we count at least 400 farms. In addiction, the law requires that the farmer is taken in obvious offense to sue him which complicate even more the controllers works.

From now on, Vietnam seems however ready to put the necessary means to end this activity.

To a total disappearance of bile farms in the world?

Unfortunately, Vietnam isn’t the only country exploiting bears for their bile. This industry exists also in China, South Korea, Japan, and knows a more recent development in Laos.

China alone owns 10 000 bears and unlike Vietnam, these farms are totally legal. However, a survey published by Animal Asia in 2011 demonstrated that 87% of the Chinese population interrogated were against this exploitation.

Besides China, Laos benefited from the Vietnam new regulation in 2005 to get progressively the market back. Thus, the farms in Laos increased from 40 in 2008 to 122 in 2012. As state Luke Nicholson, the Laos program director of Free the Bears, «Our preoccupation is that Laos has the potential for industry to explode».

Although CITES (Convention on international trade of wildlife species) classed bears in group 1 during the Washington Convention in 1989, making illegal their exploitation, trading controls are not established. Moreover, the CITES regulation only refers to the international, and does not apply within a specific territory.

The way to eliminate these farms will be long but the Vietnam resolution to put an end to this industry is a very good news because it shows that efforts furnished by organizations can end up in big decisions.

The fight continues!

The Animal Asia Association is doing a lot of work on the ground to save the Asian bears, especially through these bear sanctuaries: Chengdu in China and Tam Dao in Vietnam. These sanctuaries are used to treat and welcome bears issued from farms. At the same time, the teams are gathering evidence of the physical and psychological consequences of animal bile extraction and are conducting broader bear studies to educate a wider audience. If you wish, you can support them with a donation on the site.

You can also sign this petition and raise awareness about the existence of this little-known practice around you.