Jahre sind es her, dass Jill erstmals eine Bärengallefarm besuchte. An diesem Tag im April 1993 hätte sei einfach weggehen können, aber sie entschied sich zu handeln. Heute haben auch Sie eine Wahl. Wenn alle, die diese Zeilen lesen, nur € 20 spenden, würde dies für die Pflege und Versorgung von 150 Bären in unserem Rettungszentrum in China für ein ganzes Jahr reichen. Bitte helfen Sie uns, 20 Jahre Fortschritt zu feiern und spenden Sie € 20 – oder was immer Ihnen möglich ist. Spenden Sie € 20 – noch heute (oder was immer Ihnen möglich ist).
One Korean broker (right) taking visitors to bear farms in Ha Long - Photo: M.Ha
Syringe and vials to store bile after extraction - Photo: M.Hà
The ultrasound machine and bile extractor - Photo: M.Hà
Bear bile is packed into tin foils or glass jars, disguised as souvenirs in order to bypass inspection. Photo: N.Triều
A tin foil pack of bear bile branded as ginger tea − Photo:N.Triều
PART II - To "feast on" the bears' blood and bones.
Tuoi Tre Newspaper (Youth Newspaper) - During bile trade in bear farms in Ha Long, we recognized some familiar faces: Korean brokers. At first we thought they were Vietnamese as their Vietnamese was relatively good.
Everything must be done through those brokers because of an immutable rule in bile trade at bear farms in Ha Long city: buyers never pay directly to the farmers as in “cash on delivery”. They act as “magnates” who organize and run the bile trading network and earn huge profits from bears.
Ten times higher profit than bear farmers.
From watching and learning about those brokers’ work, we became more aware of their role. In which, their most important task was to undertake marketing, sourcing tourists from Asian countries, mostly Korea, through the travel agencies whose offices are based in Ha Noi, Quang Ninh.
Though they use name cards in transaction with customers, almost none of those shows a clear address but only name, mobile, telephone, fax number of the bear farm (only some have email address). Some brokers even use two cards with the same phone, fax number and email address but two different names (!).
After nearly two weeks of watching, intruding into bear farms, we realized that most visitors dropped in these farms after their tour around Ha Long bay. More precisely, tourists were brought from Ha Noi to Ha Long by travel companies, and on the way back they would be arranged a visit in one bear farms in Ha Khau precinct and Dai Yen commune, 5-10 km away from Bai Chay.
In these bear farms, we noticed that brokers normally did not accompany visitors groups. They are stationary in Ha Long to pick up tourists and usually travel by cars registered in other provinces. Those who live in Ha Long will use motorbike taxi (xe om). They show up at bear farms 10-15 minutes prior to the tourists' arrival. Reception, introduction, marketing and selling bear bile to visitors are all undertaken and executed by the broker cum “magnate”. The farm’s manager and staff just quietly walk beside them, follow the brokers' requests. The only activity that the broker could not get involved in is bear anaesthesia, bile extraction, bottling and packaging.
An unspoken agreement: The bear farmers can only extract bile, bottle it and hand it to customers then, based on the amount sold to each group, collect money from the “magnate” with the wholesale price of 20.000 − 30.000 dong/cc (nearly 2 USD/cc). And they have no (or not allowed to) concern in how much money the buyers pay to the “magnate”. In our observation, the broker just “judge the pocket by the looks” of each group to set the price. The common price ranges from 20 to 30 USD/cc. Customers can pay in cash if they buy small amounts, but most pay by Visa.
In farms with a scale of 50 bears or larger, the average frequency of bile extraction from a bear is once a month (120-150cc/time). At the peak, when swarms of visitors approach, a bear has to “serve the sentence” of a second extraction. Depleting the current “bear resource” as they are, bear farms may not meet the demand yet, so they constantly import bile from other places, freeze and sell it to the visitors.
Sometimes, even though the bear had already been anaesthetised, the visitors were not merciless enough to watch the extraction act so they refused to buy or just bought a little bit of frozen bile. In those cases, the “magnate” had to pay 200.000 dong to the farmer.
On the report of our actual recognition, a bear farm typically earns no less than 200 millions VND per month from bile trade, even more than half a billion in peak months. However, this amount might be nothing compared to the magnate’s profits.
Investing no capital, only time on searching, marketing, the “magnates” often pocket several times, even ten times of that number. Although bear farmers understand quite well that 20.000-30.000 dong/cc is much lower than what the tourists must pay, they perhaps find the interests satisfactory enough.
"No one raises bears for tourism"
Data provided by Quang Ninh Forest Protection Department shows 15 bear farming facilities owned by 22 individuals in Ha Long city with a total of 320 bears. Among them, mere seven large-scale bear farms hold up to 306 bears, including 79/80 unchipped bears previously discovered.
According to our recognition, in bear farms where they organize tours for foreigners, at least 2 to 3 bears have their bile extracted per day. Furthermore, one farm even sold to visitors almost 700cc of bile taken from seven bears in just one day this August. The information we managed to obtain proves that in their summit months after Lunar New Year, when tourists from Korea, Taiwan, China flood into bear farms, no less than 1,000cc of bile is sold in one farm a day.
Despite the fact that bears are affirmed in Decree No 32/2006/NĐ-CP by the Government as rare and endangered species of which exploitation and uses for commercial purposes are strictly forbidden, in many past years, there have always been ongoing extraction and sale of bear bile in those farms.
In the late of May 2009, in his meeting with National Assembly delegate Nguyen Dinh Xuan, the owner of Dat Viet farm − Nguyen Thanh Nhuong − revealed that every month it costs them 800,000 dongs to feed and take care of one bear, not to mention the initial 30 to 40 millions they spent on each bear. "If you raise bear only for conservation and not for profits, how do you compensate for those expense? Mr.Xuan asked. "Well, it's hard to answer your question!" Nhuong scratched his head and stammered. Replying the query for his assertion that they do not extract and sell bear bile to tourists, Nhuong admitted: "It's not easy to confirm. May you ask me simpler questions that I can answer? Such tricky question is giving me a hard time" (!).
Earlier, in June 2009, after sneaking into some farms in the disguise of tourists and acknowledging the bile extraction and sale for tourists, Tuoi Tre Newspaper journalists reported to Mr.Tang Xuan Phuong, the deputy director of Quang Ninh FPD − an authority in direct charge of licensing and controlling local bear farming. Mr.Phuong told us that no one raised bears just for tourists' view, however, he conceded that the local rangers had never caught red-handed any act of bear bile extraction so far.
Chipped or not, bears are still bears!
As in the regulation on management of bears in captive, issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, by March 2005, all bear owners must file in registration forms for their bears so that they could be provided with chips and kept under control of the authorities. This process of chipping bears and keeping files of them did not necessarily legalize ownership of bears, but was only an effort to control the number of bears in captive and to halt the hunt for wild bears.
Commencing on March 01st 2005, any individual who owns unregistered bears or bears illegally captured after that date shall face a charge in accordance with prevailing laws.
At the end of 2007, Department of Environment Police (C36 − Ministry of Police) launched an investigation into bear farms in Quang Ninh and unveiled 80 non-chip bears out of 281 bears in total. These bears were later approved by the Prime Minister to remain in bear farms, following a proposal from Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Quoting some bear farm owners, after being legalized, these "forsaken" bears have been doing very well. Bears, whether chipped or not, are all bears, and meant to subject to bile extraction.
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