Quang Ninh celebrates with press conference

In amongst the chaos of the festive season and our posts of good animal news, I can't possibly end this month without mentioning the most amazing press conference we held recently in Vietnam.

Tuan Bendixsen, our Vietnam Director, the Vietnam bear rescue team and I, were invited to Quang Ninh Province by the government to celebrate the end of bear bile farming there. Notable guests included Mr Dang Huy Hau, Vice Chairman of Quang Ninh People's Committee and Mr Cao Chi Cong, Deputy General Director of Vietnam Administration of Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), together with dozens of officials from the various forestry and Quang Ninh government departments: Mr Pham Van Phat, Director of Quang Ninh Forestry Protection Department (FPD), Mr Nguyen Huu Giang, Director of Quang Ninh Agriculture Department, Mr Tran The Lien, Director of Nature Conservation Department, MARD.

Mr Phan Mr Pham Van Phat, Director of Quang Ninh FPD

It was a remarkable day – where, together, we announced that bears will never again see the world through the bars of a cage, or the agony of bile extraction in Quang Ninh Province. Our journey in Quang Ninh began in 2007 where we gathered evidence to show that bear farmers were illegally extracting and selling bile to tourists. Our lobbying continued, and in 2010, we began raising awareness campaigns with the Quang Ninh Forest Protection Department (FPD) to win support from local people, government, and tourists against this obviously illegal industry.

Mr Cao Mr Cao Chi Cong, Deputy General Director, MARD

Finally, after five long years – and with the hugest respect and admiration for Tuan and his Hanoi team of Yen, The, Trinh, Ngoc and Tien for their endless campaigning – the Prime Minister’s office issued a directive ordering the closure of all bear farms in Quang Ninh and the transfer of all bears to our Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre.

TuanTuan Bendixsen, Animals Asia's Vietnam Director, campaigned tirelessly for the Quang Ninh bears

The rescue of the remaining 33 bears from Ba Mun island and five districts in Quang Ninh was truly a herculean effort on the part of the Quang Ninh FPD and Animals Asia – and it was no coincidence that the very last bear was appropriately named Hercules.

jillThanking the Vietnam government departments and individuals who collaborated with us and each other, through this entire rescue process

I joined three of the rescues with Tuan, Annemarie (Bear and Veterinary Team Director), vets Weng and Mandala and our very impressive team – Lisa, Richard, Tuan BTS, Chien, Nguyen, Chien and Nam – and witnessed first-hand the commitment and integrity of Mr Phat, Director of Quang Ninh FPD, the local authorities, MARD and Quang Ninh People's Committee to end bear bile farming in Quang Ninh – as evidenced by the effective participation of all levels of government during the preparation and the rescues themselves.

FPD presentationA token of appreciation from Animals Asia to Quang Ninh FPD

Most touching of all perhaps were the words of Dang Huy Hau – Vice Chairman of Quang Ninh People's Committee, during the press conference this month. Statements like these give us both confidence and hope that bear farming really is on the way out in Vietnam – and that many government officials here are pioneering an unprecedented respect and future for all wild animals in the forests of Vietnam:

"In hindsight micro-chipping the bears and allowing them to be kept as pets exposed a very clear loophole. In the eyes of the people bear farming was legal because we allowed this to happen. However, I was horrified when I saw what bear farming actually meant to the bears.

Just paying the bear farmer is not really a solution – we cannot convince them from financial or legal reasons, but from a humanitarian solution. How would you like to be kept in a room and never let out? If you use that approach and convince the people that this is the way we should treat animals, then you will succeed.

Introducing animal welfare for humanitarian reasons - allowing the bears to lead a better life is very good. It also changes people's perception about animal welfare issues.

If we don't respect nature, humans will pay the price. I really appreciate Animals Asia for your dedication and for going all the way with the province on this initiative. I hope other provinces follow this example – it wasn't easy but we did it and others can too.

I reconfirm that from this day Quang Ninh will never ever have any more bear farms, or any bear extraction in the province."

giftMr Dang Huy Hau, Vice Chairman, Quang Ninh People's Committee accepts Animals Asia's bear sculpture gift on behalf of Quang Ninh FPD

Mr Hau also called on MARD to not let Quang Ninh's result go to waste, but let it serve as an example to guide other provinces to end bear farming.

With thanks to all of our friends and supporters who rallied behind this campaign in Vietnam – you did this for the bears. You helped to make another province in Vietnam bear farm free.