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“Bear farm tourists” targeted by Vietnamese authorities
18 September 2012
The authorities at one of Vietnam’s major travel destinations have launched an awareness campaign targeting tourists that pay for bile to be extracted from caged bears on illegal bear bile farms.
The Quang Ninh Forest Protection Department (FPD) worked with Animals Asia, an animal welfare group that campaigns to end bear bile farming, to target tourists at Ha Long Bay, one of the most popular travel destinations in Vietnam.
The campaign saw 20,000 leaflets that explain the law on bear bile extraction, handed to tourists at Bai Chay Wharf by uniformed forest protection officers. The officers were stationed behind the gates that tourists pass through to board the boats. The FPD officers are law enforcement officials that can issue fines and arrest offenders. This meant the leaflets were taken seriously, with tourists reading them as their journey onto the bay began.
The leaflets detailed the law banning bear bile farming and the consequences for those caught paying for bile to be extracted. They were produced in three languages: Vietnamese, English, and Korean. Animals Asia funded the design and printing of the leaflets, and accompanied the FPD officers during the campaign to monitor its success and provide assistance.
Between June and August, the wharf sees 350 boats carrying 7,000 visitors per day, setting off between 6 and 9am. Most tourist itineraries start with a boat trip, before moving on to other activities, which in many cases includes visiting a bear farm. This is particularly common for organised tours from South Korea.
According to government figures released in 2012, there are 2,400 bears on farms in Vietnam as a whole. Animals Asia believes the number of bears may be higher. The figures for Quang Ninh Province show there are 245 bears kept on 27 bile farms, with most of these concentrated at 4 farms in particular: Viet Thai, Truong Thinh, Nong Trang, Nguyen Trong Bo in Ha Khau, and Dai Yen Ward of Ha Long City.
Bear bile farming is illegal in Vietnam, though people are allowed to keep bears as pets. While bile farmers claim bears are not milked, it is widely known that bile extraction continues. Bears are drugged, restrained and have their abdomens jabbed with unsterilised four-inch needles until their gall bladders are punctured to release their bile. The bile is believed to be effective in the practice of traditional Asian medicine, despite the availability of inexpensive and effective herbal and synthetic alternatives.
Quang Ninh FPD says it has imposed the largest number of punishments on illegal bear bile farm operations of all of Vietnam’s provinces. The FPD continues to issue fines to bear farms when it catches them in the act of extracting bile. To effectively end bear bile farming, they believe it is essential to reduce demand by educating the potential buyers of bile that the activity is illegal.
On 27 April 2012, the Quang Ninh Culture, Sports & Tourism department and Quang Ninh Environmental Police caught two tourist groups from South Korea, totalling 36 tourists, visiting a bear farm in Ha Long Bay. One of the tour companies has been fined US$1110 for violating tourism regulations. The other company ignored the prosecution order and the case has now been referred to the Vietnam General Tourism Department.
On 10 September 2012, Quang Ninh Culture, Sports & Tourism department signed an agreement with Animals Asia to work jointly towards ending the Korean bear bile tourist trade through advocacy and awareness-raising with tourist companies on the bear protection laws and regulations that ban tourist companies taking tourists onto bear farms.
Following the campaign, the impact on bear farm visitor numbers will be assessed and the potential for a repeat run over a more sustained period can be explored. The Chief of the Conservation Office of Quang Ninh Forest Protection Sub-department, Nguyen Cao Le and the District Manager of Ha Long Forest Protection Office, Ha Xuan Kinh expressed the hope that in time, the campaign will lead to there being no more demand for bear bile, and subsequently, no bears kept in cages in Quang Ninh.
Animals Asia approached Quang Ninh FPD last year and negotiated an agreement to work on the awareness-raising initiative. This was followed by a lengthy consultation process with various relevant local authorities and government departments including the Quang Ninh provincial government, the Ha Long City municipal authority, the wharf authority, the tourist department, the police and the justice department.
“The consultation process meant that all the relevant departments were made aware of the status of the bear bile farming issue and were able to provide thoughts and feedback on the proposed campaign. All the authorities were very helpful, and their suggestions and support ensured the success of the campaign.”
The leaflet campaign was backed up by 200 banners that were hung prominently on the main tourist routes and locations in the Ha Long area.