Art for the bears

Ending bear bile farming is not only about rescuing and helping the bears – but inspiring future generations to say no to bear bile. This year, our Vietnam Director, Tuan Bendixsen, and team have been busy working with the education authorities and engaging kids across the country to help us in many different ways.

One such initiative was held at the Phung Thuong Primary School, where over a thousand students took out their crayons and got busy portraying the miserable plight of bears on farms, and how they should be living their lives in the forest.

TrinhTrinh Thuy Phan, Head of Communications and Public Awareness-Vietnam oversees the enthusiastic competition.

Generously sponsored by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and supported by the government Hanoi Forest Protection Department, the Phuc Tho Education Department and, of course, the principal and teachers of the school itself, the competition proved to be a roaring success.


The children were asked to channel their talents into the reality of bear bile farming. To imagine how these prisons would feel to the victims inside the cages. To remember that all they know is the sight of four walls of steel bars around them.... whereas in the wild they would climb trees, forage for up to 5km every day, enjoy the fruits of the forest, make choices – like us – about how to live their lives.

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It was vitally important to have the government Hanoi Forest Protection Department on board because, like the authorities in Quang Ninh where bear farming is now a practice of the past, they too want to follow in the same footsteps and give hope to the 200 bears currently languishing on bear farms in Phung Thuong – just down the road from the school.

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During speeches, the core message to the kids was:

"YOU can help save the bears by taking part in this painting competition – to show that you care – and that you want to help save and conserve the beautiful creatures that deserve so much better than rotting away on the farms. YOU can help return these bears to a life they deserve – running in the grass, swimming in pools, playing with friends – things YOU enjoy yourselves! Besides raising your voice through paintings, you can go home and tell your parents, your brothers and sisters, and your friends, that we need to help the bears and save them for future generations. This is exactly what has saved so many bears in Vietnam so far – and seen the number of bears on farms across the country reduce from 4,000 at its height about 15 years ago to 1,200 today. With YOUR help, we can make that number ZERO – and soon."

This message was particularly important to the children because it is likely that many of them have family members or friends of their family who are, in fact, bear farmers themselves.

And the creative inspiration that came out of that competition was remarkable.  Although the youngest entrants were only 6 years of age, the drawings were beautiful, and reflected the key message that together we can help free the 200 bears on farms in Phung Thuong.  No-one came away empty handed, and there were prizes and winners for each year, with even the youngest having a chance to win a prize.

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The prize-giving ceremony was wonderful – with my heartfelt thanks to Animals Asia's Vietnam team of Tuan, Trinh, Ngoc, Hoa, Hang, Tien, Thanh, Yen, Nhung, Thuy and Annemarie, all working their socks off to see such a wonderful finale to the competition. With over 1,000 entries, this was a truly remarkable project.

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At the end of the day, none of us judging knew anything about the children themselves, except their ages in the different categories. Their talent was superb, their passion infectious. The prize-giving afternoon was nothing short of chaos, with the kids – many of them dirt poor – just so excited to be joining this event.

high fiveHundreds of high fives later, we were ready to announce the winners.

One of the winners, Do Thi Ly, captured our attention when she was interviewed by media. A beautiful, shy little girl whose drawing was entitled "Release Bears Back to the Wild" and whose face said it all about how pleased and proud she was to scoop the first prize. With the TV cameras on her, she talked about hoping all farmed bears could be happy and free to live in the forest.

do thi ly

Later, in a quiet moment, I managed to talk with Ly for a little while, and asked her all about her family.

In a quiet voice, she replied that her family kept bears...


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