No More Pain For Bears, Vietnam Commits


Good news for bear lovers as Hong Kong-based NGO Animals Asia Foundation and Vietnam Administration of Forestry on July 19 signed a legally binding agreement to completely end bear bile farming in Vietnam.

"This is a truly historic day," Animals Asia CEO Jill Robinson said at the signing in Hanoi, adding that the decision "will lead to the definitive end to bear bile farming here in Vietnam".

According to Animals Asia, Vietnam is the first country to administer a total ban on bear bile farming, and with this agreement, the Vietnamese government will rescue all bears kept in illegal farms and force them to close.

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Animals Asia cites official figures reporting that Vietnam has about 1,200 bears kept in captivity.

The move follows the agreement between Animals Asia and the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Association signed in 2015, agreeing to ensure a complete end to bear bile prescription among traditional medicine practitioners by 2020.

The new deal is expected to bring about a significant reduction in demand and contribute towards the end of the illegal market for bear bile.

To rescue the 1,000 bears, sanctuaries for them must be built as part of the plan, with around US$20 million needed.

Animals Asia has so far rescued 186 bears in Vietnam since setting up its sanctuary in Tam Dao in 2008.

Agonizing Lives

Bear bile farming has been illegal in Vietnam since 1992, but bears are still being kept in captivity in illegal establishments for their bile, which is used as medicine with supposed health benefits.

In 2006, every bear in captivity was microchipped so that no new bears could be added to farms.

But with the country lacking resources and expertise to build rescue centres and care for the animals, households were allowed to keep the bears as pets on the government’s behalf, with the agreement not to extract bile. This legal loophole has effectively allowed bear bile farming to continue until now.

The living conditions and bile extraction process are extremely agonizing for the bears.

Bears are forced to grow up in tiny cages to the point where their bodies have been contorted to fit the bars. Most have few teeth left due to attempts to chew their way out.

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They are usually sedated before the procedure. Extraction methods range from “free drip”, where a hole is pierced into their gall bladder, to the insertion of permanent catheters.

The extraction of bile causes chronic health problems for the physically and psychologically damaged animals.

A bear can live up to 30 years in the wild but a captive bear can live only for five to ten years due to infection, illnesses or malnutrition.

The number of bears in more than 400 farms across Vietnam decreased from 4,000 in 2005 to around 1,200 at present.

Why Bear Bile?

Bear bile has been used in traditional Asian medicine for thousands of years and contains high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), known to be useful for treating liver and gall bladder conditions.

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In Vietnam, bear bile is believed to be a remedy for a wide range of health conditions including sprains, fractures, gout, severe hepatitis, kidney stone, high fever, convulsions, and delirium.

According to Animals Asia, the bile farmers have for years, marketed the substance as a general cure-all. Unchecked, this pervasive myth led to the surplus of bile making it’s way into some truly unexpected – and always completely unnecessary – products such as bile rice wine and bile glue in Vietnam.

There are many readily available alternatives to bear bile with the same medicinal properties but it would take some time to change the mindset of Vietnamese people.

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