19 bears start 2,000km road-trip to Animals Asia’s Vietnam sanctuary
18 January 2010
Nineteen endangered bears are on their way to freedom at Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre near Hanoi – after being discovered cramped in 40ft cargo containers on an illegal bile farm in Binh Duong province near Ho Chi Minh City.
Animals Asia’s Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said the bears – nine males and 10 females – were loaded onto three trucks early this morning (Monday, 18 Jan) and along with Animals Asia’s support crew, were now heading north along Highway One.
“We plan to drive through the night. The trucks and our support van have two drivers to take shifts. We want to get the bears back to the sanctuary and out of those terrible containers as quickly as possible. We’re hoping to get to Hue by Tuesday night and to Tam Dao by Thursday morning,” Mr Bendixsen said.
Animals Asia’s veterinary surgeon based at Tam Dao, Kirsty Officer, said that once the bears arrived at the sanctuary, it would take two to three full days to move them from the containers into quarantine cages. “We’ll remove the bears one-by-one, anaesthetising each one and giving him or her an initial health-check to prioritise them all for surgery or other urgent treatment,” she said.
The owner of the bears, a Taiwanese businessman, had kept them for six to seven years in concrete cells at the Binh Duong city headquarters of his company, Hang Thang Pty Ltd, which exports veneer boards.
Animals Asia stepped in a few weeks ago when the Central Forest Protection Department (FPD) and the Binh Duong FPD asked for our help after deciding to close down the farm, which did not meet bear-keeping regulations specifying such standards as minimum cage-size and ventilation requirements.
The businessman moved the bears to his company’s factory site on the outskirts of Binh Duong and into the cargo containers two months ago after the authorities warned him about keeping the bears in the concrete holding cells. At that time there were 25 bears. Five have already been confiscated by the authorities and one died from the bile extraction process.
Mr Bendixsen said all bears from the farm were wild-caught. “One is blind and two are missing limbs. We also believe that all bears on this bile farm arrived either as cubs or juveniles (40-50kg),” he said. “The containers are divided into six to seven compartments with one bear per compartment. This is the first time we’ve seen bears kept under these conditions.”
Bear bile extraction was banned in Vietnam about 15 years ago, but farmers were allowed to keep the bears they already had to display them to tourists. All the bears on farms at that time were microchipped so the authorities could monitor if any new bears were being brought to farms illegally. Mr Bendixsen said he was told by staff at the Binh Duong farm that the bears were last milked for their bile about a month ago and two were not microchipped.
He said the rescue came just in time for the 19 bears. “It would have been so hot and suffocating for the bears in those containers over the summer months. I doubt they would have survived.”
Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson MBE said the rescue was encouraging as it showed that some of the authorities were willing to persevere to close down the worst of the farms.
“We’re very excited that both the central and local forestry officials have made this a priority and are showing strong leadership in enforcing the laws that were passed to protect this majestic flagship species. The Asiatic black bear, or moon bear, is already under threat of extinction. There is no time to waste in stamping out this terrible industry,” Ms Robinson said.
Bear bile and gall bladders have been used in traditional Asian medicine to treat “heat-related” illnesses, such as liver and eye complaints, for thousands of years. The bears were killed in the wild. But in the past three decades, entrepreneurs in Korea, China and Vietnam have found ways to keep the bears alive and milk them regularly for their lucrative bile.
In Vietnam, the bears are drugged – usually with the illegal drug, ketamine – removed from their small cages, restrained with ropes and jabbed in the abdomen with four-inch needles until the gall bladder is found. The bile is extracted with a catheter and medicinal pump; usually 100-120ml is taken.