End Bear Farming and Trade
The demand for bear bile poses a critical threats to Vietnam's bears. Bears are hunted in the wild and sold live to commercial farms, where they are exploited for their bile to meet consumer demand.
Vietnam is home to two species of bears; the Asiatic black bear (Ursus Thibetanus) and the Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus). Both species are protected under Vietnam’s wildlife protection law Decree 160 (2013). It is illegal to hunt, trap, possess, kill, sell or advertise bears or bear products in Vietnam. They are also protected by international law under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The demand for bear bile poses a critical threat to Vietnam’s bears. Bears are hunted in the wild and sold live to commercial farms, where they are exploited for their bile to meet consumer demand. Bears are also hunted for their meat and body parts, or to be kept as pets or trophies in hotels and businesses. Additionally, deforestation, expansion of agriculture and modernization has also resulted in the loss of the bears’ natural habitat.
With rapid economic growth in Vietnam, the use of bear bile has become a more popular form of traditional medicine. In order to supply the demand, bears are kept confined in small cages, where they have a long syringe repeatedly poked into their gall bladders to extract bile.
View a short video clip of a bear bile extraction here:
The National Forest Protection Department (FPD) estimated that about 1,250 bears remained in captivity on farms in Vietnam in 2015, and scientists believe it is likely that there are currently more bears in captivity in Vietnam than in the wild. As there have been only a few cases of bears born in captivity in Vietnam, most of Vietnam’s captive bears originated from the wild.
Another development in the illegal bear bile industry was the emergence of bear bile tourism. ENV investigators have found that foreign tourists regularly visit bear farms as part of organized tours to Ha Long Bay. During some of these visits, tourists witness bile being extracted from a bear, have the opportunity to taste bear bile wine, and purchase bear bile products, which they then illegally smuggle out of the country when they leave Vietnam. This activity violates Vietnamese laws and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Since 2008, ENV has carried out surveillance at the entrances of six major bear farms located near Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh Province. Investigators have documented daily visits by tour buses loaded with mainly Korean tourists. Following a year of surveillance and the formation of a law enforcement task force that included ENV inspectors, the last two of six bear farms operating in Ha Long Bay were closed to visitors.
Photo: A roadside sign, in four languages, has been placed in front of two remaining bear farms, represents a significant step taken by provincial authorities in stopping bear bile tourism and a notice to the bear farmers that bear bile farming will not be tolerated in the area.
In 2005 the Vietnamese government launched efforts to phase out bear farming. The first step of this process was to register all of the approximately 4,300 bears being held in captivity on farms, and insert microchips in each one so that they can be identified during future inspections. The phase-out process began once all known captive bears were registered, and now any new bears discovered on a farm without microchips are to be confiscated and the owner punished. Attrition will reduce the number of captive bears on farms, and without replacements, bear farming will be phased out and eventually end.
As 2015, the government estimated that this number had reduced by around 72% since 2005, to approximately 1,250 captive bears, indicating that the program is working.
ENV’s Wildlife Crime Unit undertakes regular monitoring and surveys of bear farms, and tracks cases involving bears or bear products.
Working with government and authorities
Information relating to bear crime cases uncovered by ENV or reported to the wildlife crime hotline is passed on to authorities. In each case, ENV’s bear crime officer then works with authorities to address the crime. ENV also works to build support amongst key government decision-makers and leaders to strengthen policy and legislation protecting Vietnam’s bears and ensure that current laws are enforced.
ENV recognizes the importance of addressing demand reduction as an essential part of any effort to successfully end bear farming and trade. Reductions in demand must correspond with the phasing out of farming, or consumers will simply purchase bear bile products elsewhere, such as from farms in China or Laos.
To accomplish this change in behavior and reduction in demand, ENV has completed two major baseline surveys examining public attitudes toward the use of bear bile, in 2009 and 2011. In late 2014, ENV is completing a major survey in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, and Da Nang in order to evaluate changes in public attitudes toward use of bear bile.
As part of a strategic campaign aimed at addressing demand for bear bile, ENV conducts regular campaigns via Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on television and radio, aimed at raising public awareness about Vietnam’s bears and reducing the consumption of bear bile and bear products. Past advertising campaigns have also included bill boards on major highways and bus and magazine advertisements.
Since late 2010, ENV has been working with bear farmers to encourage them to give up their illegal bear bile business. As part of this program, ENV carries out monthly phone calls and sends monthly letters to bear farmers to remind them that it’s illegal to extract bear bile and to keep unregistered bears. ENV also carries out “hotspot” missions, where bear farms are monitored, owners are profiled, and violations noted. These inspections coincide with monthly campaign activities targeting bear farming communities including events at schools, bear farm neighbor visits, pressure exerted through commune-level government, public address announcements, and market events. Feedback from authorities, friends of ENV and other sources report that the bear farmer campaign has a substantial impact on the attitudes of farmers, and some farmers have since given up their bears.
In April 2014, ENV launched the middle school program, which aims to make young hotspot residents aware of the threats to bears in Vietnam as well as to educate them about the responsibility to protect this species in their area. The school program receives the support from local middle schools and enjoys great participation from students.
As a result, two “Bear warrior clubs” have been set up at the two schools and received a lot of support from both school management board and students. These clubs are intended to be “ENV’s eyes and ears” in the bear hotspots, and the students will help to spread the message of the need to end bear farming throughout their hometown of the Phuc Tho district bear farming hotspot.
Out on the streets, ENV is encouraging Vietnamese citizens to sign pledges and make a commitment not to use bear bile. Our Outreach team tours the country with a mobile bear exhibit, which provides the opportunity for the public to learn more about the plight of Vietnam’s bears, and sign pledges to show their commitment. By the end of July 2014, ENV has collected nearly 224,000 pledges from ordinary people from all over the country.
Bring Peace to Vietnam’s bears art exhibit
ENV hosted the “Bring Peace to Vietnam’s Bears” national poster competition. The competition received 96,000 entries expressing concerns and ideas from people of different ages, ethnicities and occupations around the country. Check out some of the exhibited works from this competition here.
In order to mobilize public involvement in reducing demand for bear bile, ENV organized the bear PSA (public service announcement) competition, open to all Vietnamese citizens. Over four months, excellent entries were sent to ENV and 08 outstanding videos were selected. Watch the videos here.
Since 2012, September 13 is Vietnam’s official Bear Day. In 2012, more than 50 Vietnam celebrities came together with ENV to urge the public to stop bear farming in Vietnam. On the same day, bear protection exhibits were organized in 8 different cities by ENV Wildlife Protection Volunteer Network clubs.
In June and July of 2014, ENV launched the "I SUPPORT" viral campaign, which engages Vietnamese celebrities to encourage their fans to "Say NO to bear bile and bear products consumption", by posting the campaign's poster with the message about bear protection on their fanpages or Facebook profiles. All of them are encouraged to end the caption of the photo with the sentence "(Name of celebrity) supports ending bear farming and hopes that you do too". In just two months, 17 celebrities posted the campaign’s poster on Facebook and achieved a total of over 44,000 Likes and 350 Shares. All of our celebrity supporters on the I SUPPORT campaign are famous singers, TV presenters, game show hosts or comedians in Vietnam. The campaign has also enjoyed good media coverage with more than 30 entries on online newspapers and a 3 minute show on Voice of Vietnam (VOV), the national radio broadcaster.
- Do not use, purchase or consume bear bile or products made from bears.
- Contact the ENV Wildlife Crime Hotline 1800 1522 if you see bears or bear products being advertised or sold in Vietnam.
- DONATE to ENV’s bear campaign.