years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
A bear taken out to prepare for bile extraction - Photo: Nguyen Trieu
PART III - Friday, 11 September 2009, 08:49 (GMT+7)
To infiltrate into "bear farm group" in Ha Long: Penalties like… none.
Tuoi Tre Newspaper (Youth Newspaper) – Not only Tuoi Tre Newspaper notified the situation of illegal bear bile farming, many wildlife protection organizations also brought out their words. But the answers were just “no” or “unable to tackle”.
In their letter sent on 4 May 2009 to relevant authorities such as the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development (MARD), the Department of Cultural Heritage (under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism), the Vietnam Forest Protection Department etc, the Education center for Nature of Vietnam (ENV) − a member of the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations − has alerted that the activity of bile extraction and sale for tourists, largely Koreans, is against Vietnamese laws and regulation on the management of endangered and rare wild animals.
Moreover, the fact that tourists buy bear bile and bring it outside of Vietnam also means violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in which Vietnam participates. The MARD and the Forest Protection Department have already dispatched a requisition of inspection to the Quang Ninh Forest Protection Department but they were “positive that no open bear bile extraction exists”
The affirmation of Quang Ninh Forest Protection Department is absolutely not incorrect, as all bear farmers understand quite well that extracting bear bile for sale is illegal, so they never do it in the "open”.
To handle the case by listening to reports
After days of spying into bear farms in Ha Long for information and evidence, Tuoi Tre Newspaper’s correspondents contacted by phone with Mr Ha Cong Tuan – Director of Vietnam Forest Protection Department – and arrange an appointment to provide information and seek advice from this agency.
However, Mr Tuan said that he was in Hanoi and suggested the correspondent work with Mr Do Quang Tung, the Office Manager of CITES Vietnam. Mr Tung admitted that despite the office's function of overseeing CITES enforcement in Vietnam, its sole four staff could only collect reports from local ranger offices but were unable to perform actual inspection, supervision. In addition, according to Mr Tung, the management of captive wild animals was decentralized to forest protection departments at provincial and city levels, so even the National Forest Protection Department found it difficult to meddle in.
“Very hard to solve”
One senior officer of the Environmental police department (C36 – Ministry of Police) said that to completely wipe out illegal activities regarding wild animals was extremely difficult. That was not to mention cases involving foreigners require the coordination between many offices at different branches and levels. In the same manner, Mr Do Quang Tung shook his head when the correspondent asked if such illegal activities they had observed could be held criminally responsible if they were caught red-handed.
Meanwhile, according to the item 190 of the prevailing criminal Laws, “those who illegally hunt, kill, transport wild, rare animals restricted by the Government or transport, illegally trade products of those animals shall be fined with 5-50 million dongs, condemned up to two years of non-captive re-education or from six months to three years of incarceration.
The odd penalty of “regularization”
After the revelation of 80 unchipped bears in Quang Ninh in the late 2007, many relevant authorities as well as native and foreign wildlife protection organizations requested those bears to be confiscated and transferred to the care of a rescue center before released to the wild. Yet, notwithstanding current regulations, instead of a strict penalty, a petition from MARD was filed in to the Prime Minister on March 10th 2008, proposing an extension of the bears' confinement and “mere administrative penalty to the illegal owners of wild, rare, endangered animals”.
On 31 March 2008, the Government’s Office announced the conclusion of the Deputy Prime Minister, Hoang Trung Hai, which opted for the proposal of MARD. In the end, the case, which should have been strictly punished to demonstrate laws and rules, only ended with monetary penalty and the exhibits were all “regularized”.
Lawyer Tran Pham Thanh Loan:
Responsibilities of the National Forest Protection Department
The National Forest Protection Department is responsible for: Inspecting and imposing punishments on any misconduct in keeping wild animals within the scope of their specific administration; steering, guiding, supervising the management, protection of wild, endangered, rare fauna and flora stipulated by laws.
Local Forest Protection Departments (in provinces and central cities) hold the responsibility for administering, asserting the capability of breeding, raising farms, transplanting facilities of wild, endangered, rare plants and animals.
According to the administrative regulations on captive bears, all forms of hunting, trapping, trading, slaughtering, transporting, ex-importing, temporary importing, re-exporting bears and products of bears are against the laws and therefore are all prohibited activities. FPD branches are responsible for monitoring, detecting such illegalities according to this regulation and other laws, or providing consultancy to government bodies authorized to handle these illegal practices.
Lawyer Huynh Van Nong:
Criminal responsibility of bear farmers.
Here, we need to distinguished 2 activities:
1. Illegal bear bile trading, can face criminal charge according to Article 190 of the prevailing criminal Laws.
2. Illegal bear keeping might not face criminal charge according to the prevailing criminal Law. However, this activity can incur an administrative punishment according to part 4, article 20 and part 9, article 2 of Decree No.159/2007/ND-CP, with the highest degree of 500 million dong.
The solution to rectify the administrative violation in this case can be: release to the natural habitat; in case the wild animals were wounded, sick and in need of rescue, transfer them to an animals Rescue Center; transfer to science research facilities (including multiplication research facilities), environment education centers; sell to zoos, performance groups, legal animals breeding facilities; euthanize individuals carrying disease or in case previous placement options are unavailable (sub-clause 1, section I part B of Circular No.90/2008/TT-BNN of MARD).
In this Circular, no section allows farmers to continue keeping illegal bears, therefore, the placement proposed by the MARD does not comply with their own laws.
Hence Jan 1st 2010, the practice of illegal bear keeping shall be condemned as crimes, according to the amendment, addition made to some articles of the criminal Laws: “Anyone who illegally hunts, kills, transports, captures, trades animals listed as endangered, rare species of protection priority, or illegally transports, trades parts or products of those animals shall be prosecuted for criminal responsibility”. In some cases, the offenders can be imprisoned up to seven years.
Bears and detriment
As bears can not reproduce in captive condition, all of them are the work of hunters’ guilds in our country and smugglers from Lao, Myanmar. They are slowly decaying in their tiny, stinky cells, being anaesthetized, extracted for bile many times, suffering from inflammation, abscess and liver cancer, in defiance of the many strong antibiotics drugged into them.
Many scientific studies have shown that bile taken from captive bears does not produce medicinal effects as advertised, but toxicity because of pus, surplus anesthetics, antibiotics mixed in it… Even natural bear bile can be substituted with many effective drugs that cause no bear butchery for bile.
Bear farms switched to cooperation with travel agencies to bring foreign tourists to their farms and buy bear products such as limbs, bear wine, bear bile… to make illegal profit. A bear farmer has answered frankly: "Our farm has a license though laws do not allow bear bile exploitation and trade. Everyone knows what we raise bears for." The bear farm is located just several hundreds meters away from the local Forest Protection Department. By turning a deaf ear to such farms, they brought minor earnings to some kingpins but major loss to the whole country.
Farming bears for bile will risk pushing bears in Vietnam and other neighbor countries closer to extinction as it stimulates the hunt for wild animals. Additionally, as we do not permit the making of products from rare animals, bile extraction violates both Vietnamese laws and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Furthermore, this practice can generate objection from international opinions and might result in embargoes on our legal products such as crocodiles, pythons, tortoises…, which then cause great deficit to domestic farmers.
If we do not strictly punish these bear farmers, the related regulations on protection of natural forests, environment, biological diversity… will lose their actual validity.
Ha Long bay is priceless property of our country and the whole of mankind, a shining, sparkling pearl on the East Sea coastline. If tourism administration and services are not properly handled, they will surely stain this magnificent picture, much affecting the number of true travelers yearning to come here.
NGUYEN DINH XUAN
(National Assembly’s Commission of Science, Technology and Environment)