Six-month delay could condemn protected Halong bears

24 March 2015

Bear languished in cage at Cau Trang bear farm 10

The Vietnamese Prime Minister’s office has potentially condemned the surviving 19 moon bears in Halong City to death, by delaying any potential rescue by up to six months.

The contradictory official decision with a half-year time frame, released over the weekend, sparked newspaper stories claiming Animals Asia’s request to rescue the protected bears had been granted.

However, closer inspection suggests instead that the two-part decision both supports and contradicts the request – essentially further muddying the water and writing off the possibility of any imminent rescue.

The first part of the decision directs the Quang Ninh Government to “demand” that the bear farms hand over the bears to Animals Asia’s nearby Bear Rescue Centre.

However, part two stipulates the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) works with Animals Asia to “support” bear farmers in order to facilitate the hand over.

It’s a well-worn euphemism essentially suggesting compensation – a move that would not only put a price on the head of all bears, including wild ones – it is also a criminal offence in Vietnam to buy and sell bears or trade them in any way. Every captive bear in Vietnam is owned by the state and buying or selling them is illegal.

It’s a point not lost on sections of the Vietnamese media. A recent article in the Communist Party of Vietnam Newspaper agreed paying for bears is illegal.

Now, it appears that the decision by the PM’s office has brought all parties back to their original stalemate.

A skeletal bear at Cau Trang bear farm

Tuan Bendixsen, Animals Asia’s Vietnam Director said:

“Animals Asia is extremely disappointed with this decision. We have not been given the mandate we need to rescue these dying moon bears.

“We’ve pointed out the laws which have been broken. We reminded the authorities about the nine bears which MARD agreed were being illegally housed. But this declaration doesn't even mention them.

“Now we will have to wait for MARD to come to us with suggestions as to how we can ‘support’ the farmers. The suggestion is that the farmers should be financially compensated for the ‘loss’ of these bears – which is illegal – or that alternative revenue streams should be provided for a business model that has been illegal since 1992. All of which is rather hard to believe.”

Bear in the cage on Cau Trang bear farm

The six-month time frame for all parties to report back to the PM is also considered to be highly unusual. Prime Ministerial decisions usually have a one or two month deadline.

Animals Asia’s founder and CEO, Jill Robinson MBE said:

“It’s in the hands of MARD and the Quang Ninh Government now. We beseech them to remember that this is about living, sentient animals. It’s about the cruelty and pain they are suffering. It’s about protected animals being held to ransom while money is being demanded to compensate an illegal trade.

“The bears don’t have six months. If they continue to die at their present rate there will be no decision left to take. For Animals Asia, this is not over and it won’t be over until Vietnam is bear bile farm free.”

Painfully thin bear on a Halong Bay bear farm