Today is the fourth anniversary of Hercules John’s rescue and with it the end of bear bile farming in Quang Ninh province in Vietnam

30 October 2019

Four years ago today bear bile farming ended in Quang Ninh, Vietnam. The rescue of Hercules John marked the end of a series of rescues carried out over six months, with a total of 33 bears rescued. Quang Ninh had previously been a hotspot for bile farming as well as welcoming domestic and international tourists to its farms.

Looking back, Animals Asia’s Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said of the rescue:

“There have been some incredible breakthroughs in our work in Vietnam over the years – but thinking back to the 30th of October 2015 still fills me with the most satisfaction.

Hercules’ rescue represented an impossible task accomplished. He was the last bear to be rescued from Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province.

V161 Hercules

I first saw a bear farm in the province in 2007 when the industry – fuelled by tourism to the province’s famed Halong Bay – was beginning to take off.

By 2010, we were actively campaigning to close the farms but it wasn’t until 2014 that we had a breakthrough. This was when we were given access to some of the farms and were able to document the horrific conditions of the bears there.

An international campaign followed and against all odds, the Prime Minister himself gave us permission to rescue every bear in the province.

In all we were able to rescue 33 bears, with Hercules being the last to make it home to our sanctuary.

Quang Ninh is now free of bear farms and it will remain that way forever. A great many years of persistent lobbying, gathering evidence, raising awareness and working with the government all paid off. And when we brought Hercules home and knew he would be safe for the rest of his life, I realised just how world-changing our work can be.”

L to R: Animals Asia's Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen, founder and CEO Jill Robinson MBE, and FPD staff are meeting Hercules

Animals Asia worked closely with the Forestry Protection Department (FPD) in Quang Ninh who were instrumental in working with the bile farmers to prepare Hercules for the 200km trip back to Animals Asia’s sanctuary in Tam Dao National Park.

Lisa is distracting Hercules

Animals Asia’s Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said at the time:

“That we could help bring an end to bile farming in a place previously known as the worst bear bile farming province in Vietnam is something to celebrate, and also a reason to look to the future with optimism. Vietnam has shown that it wants this situation to end, and that it’s capable of taking the steps to put an end to it once and for all.”

Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson said at the time:

“This has been a Herculean effort by all in the Animals Asia team to see the province of Quang Ninh bear farm-free – and we are thankful, grateful and determined to keep pushing for countrywide closure of all bile farms soon.”

Since that rescue in 2015 the Vietnamese government has signed an exclusive memorandum of understanding with Animals Asia making us their official partner to end bear bile farming in Vietnam for good by 2022. And Hercules John has overcome his fear of venturing outside after a decade in a cramped cage and has formed firm friendships with other bears. One of his best pals is Merricks (previously known as Kujira) who was blind before specialist treatment at the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre restored his sight.

Hercules and Kujira, two of 33 rescued bears in Quang Ninh, enjoy wrestling with each other at VBRC

Today, they wrestle and play together on the grass in House 5 of the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre without a care in the world – two kindred spirits with a shared dark past, both helping each other to forget.

Hercules and Merricks

Thanks to the rehabilitation made possible by generous and compassionate supporters all around the world, these bears, and many others like them, are living the lives they were denied for so many years. Most exciting of all is the prospect of ending bear bile farming in Vietnam in just over three years. We hope that you’ll be with us and Hercules John on every step of this crucial quest.