What next for the bears of Halong Bay?

12 November 2014

Bears languish on a bear bile farm in Vietnam's Quang Ninh province, 2014 (5)

"Bear bile farming will not be over until there are no more bears on farms"

In light of reports that bear bile farming has ended in tourist hotspot Halong Bay, Animals Asia's Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen talks about the future challenges for the area.

We need to be clear – great strides have been made – but bear bile farming is not yet over in Halong Bay or the wider Quang Ninh province.

As of the end of October, there were still 57 bears on farms in Halong City, with the total standing at 87 for Quang Ninh province. While the bears remain – farms are not closed and bile farming is not ended.

What next for the bears of Halong Bay?

The good news is that since May tourism numbers have plummeted as the heat has been turned up on the farms. But our monitoring shows it has yet to stop completely. And now, as the farms are feeling the pressure, and their businesses are suffering, they are taking action.

Previously, there were two farms in Halong City within five minutes of each other. This made monitoring possible. But the farmers have divided the bears into three farms that are much further apart, putting an even greater strain on monitoring resources.

Right now, the bear farms still have their bears and it's a reasonable deduction that these bears are still earning their keep.

Most likely the farmers will either be lying low or trying to get their business back by getting tourists to new locations. Or they'll get their product to tourists directly via shops and hotels. Sadly, the domestic market – though dwindling, also still remains.

Animals Asia and government officials show their mutual support

We need to ensure authorities have the support required

We owe a duty of care to the authorities fighting bear bile farming with limited resources. Celebrating success too early can impact on the likes of the Quang Ninh Forest Protection Department (FPD). If the media says it's over – that may affect their budgets. We are all desperate to end bear bile farming for good – in this province and beyond – but positive headlines and happy donors in the short term are no substitute for a lasting resolution.

If bear bile farmers are under pressure – then now is the time for increased vigilance.

There are no quick fixes

The sudden drop in tourist numbers hasn't happened overnight.

In 2007, Animals Asia kick-started widespread opposition to bear bile farming in the province by releasing the first ever film of bile extraction taking place in Halong Bay. The expose roused the media, government and NGOs into action against the cruel trade.

We've also been working with the provincial FPD for the last four years to raise awareness. Thanks to these campaigns everyone knows about the issue – the authorities, the farmers, the local people, even the tourists.

The solution to bear bile farming has to be sustainable which is why we advocate the removal of all bears from farms alongside sustained awareness raising. You don't stop a crime and leave the victims behind.

We'll continue our work in Quang Ninh and advocating for the removal of every last bear. Just as we continue to do so throughout Vietnam and China.

Forest Protection Department (FPD) staff hand out brochures to Korean tourists