The bear facts about holidays in Asia

Bosley-and-VietnamAnimals Asia has been rescuing bears from the horrors of the bear bile industry since 2000 and is the only organisation with a bear sanctuary in China. It also has a sanctuary near Tam Dao National Park, Vietnam. Animals Asia’s founder and CEO, Jill Robinson MBE, is widely recognised as the world’s leading expert on the bear bile industry having campaigned against it since 1993. Endangered Asiatic black bears – known as moon bears because of the crescents of yellow fur on their chests – are kept for up to 30 years in tiny cages, unable to move or turn around, having their bile extracted daily through open holes carved into their abdomens or via a suction pump inserted with unsterile needles. Their only escape from this torture is death.

Bear bile has been used in Traditional Medicine for thousands of years to treat liver and eye disease. It does have a medicinal value but, today, many TM doctors agree that it can be easily replaced with herbs and synthetic alternatives, just as effective and cheaper to produce, rendering the bears’ suffering unnecessary.

After ground-breaking agreements between Animals Asia and the Chinese and Vietnamese governments in 2000 and 2005 respectively, the charity has rescued 285 bears to its China sanctuary and over 100 to the sanctuary in Vietnam. A new initiative is currently turning a former bear farm in Nanning, China, into a third sanctuary, rescuing a further 126 bears.

Animals Asia’s Healing without Harm campaign has seen thousands of traditional medicine doctors and hundreds of Chinese pharmaceutical companies pledging never to use bear bile as an ingredient again; with the support of celebrities and the media, Animals Asia’s public education programmes in China and Vietnam are garnering significant support for ending bear bile farming.

In Vietnam, Animals Asia works on educational and public awareness campaigns to stop the use of bear bile tourism. Its campaign to purge Vietnam’s iconic Halong Bay of the blight of bear bile farming is receiving unprecedented support from government, media, locals and tourists.

Despite its illegality, bear bile farming persists in Quang Ninh province, the home of UNESCO World Heritage site Halong Bay but this year, campaigns running during peak tourist seasons, have been joined by all levels of provincial government – a positive sign authorities are committing to working together to eliminate bear bile farming in the area.

Together, Animals Asia and Forest Protection Department (FPD) staff distributed 12,000 awareness-raising brochures directly into the hands of tourists and locals.

Around Halong City, and pivotally in Bai Chay Wharf, where over 5,000 tourists board boats to visit the bay every day, authorities gave permission, for the first time, for anti-bear bile farming banners to be displayed free of charge.

In the biggest show of unity so far in the province, government representatives from the Forestry Department, Halong City Police, the Department of Culture & tourism, Quang Ninh’s International Relations Department, Halong City, and the Bay Chay Wharf Authority all publically signed Animals Asia’s pledge board on Bai Chay Wharf vowing to protect bears and reject bear bile products.

Animals Asia’s Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said: “We’ve been working closely with all these entities for a number of years now, but the unity this year has really been exciting. However, some reports have perhaps been overly optimistic about the situation. Claims that only two or three farms remain in the province and that the industry can be eradicated by the end of the year don’t tally with our observations.”

It’s believed there are still over 100 bears languishing on farms in Quang Ninh – with the two largest farms holding a combined 78 bears. These establishments continue to avoid prosecution by exploiting legal loopholes such as claiming bears are pets.

A key report from wildlife trade monitors, TRAFFIC, has outlined the extent of bear trafficking in Asia – a situation worsened by the existence of bear bile farms. The report is based on research into 12 years of activity across 17 countries, representing almost 700 seizures, accounting for 2,801 bears. Among the findings is the fact that bear bile farms, that were once thought would stop bears being taken from the wild, has instead boosted trafficking and markets for bile products.

“The production of bile in farms increases the availability of bear bile and intensifies consumer demand. The supply pressure for facilities to stock adequate numbers of bears to meet demand for bile extraction subsequently drives the poaching of bears from the wild.”

It is suspected live bears seized in border provinces (such as in Cambodia 156, Lao PDR 26 and Thailand 15) were potentially en-route to bear bile extraction facilities in Vietnam and China.”

Animals Asia founder and CEO Jill Robinson said: “This clearly endorses our own investigations and research. Bear farms are not ‘saving’ bears. Increasingly bears we rescue in Vietnam are the ones being trafficked between neighbouring countries and are headed to bile farms domestically or in China. There is no evidence of bears being bred in captivity in Vietnam and breeding, while more widespread in China, is still the preserve of the industrial bile farmers. These are also the farmers with the largest resources to create markets for ever more spurious bile products.

Furthermore we must not overlook animal welfare issues. Bears, farmed or trafficked, are no less susceptible to the pain and cruelty of bear bile farming. However we judge the bile farms, they have failed and are failing. They have not ended trafficking and they are not extracting bile in a humane way. There is no humane way. The only humane course of action is to end bear bile farming. There remain over 10,000 bears on Chinese farms and an estimated 2,400 in Vietnam.”

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