British-led charity strikes agreement to end cruel bear bile farming in Vietnam

The animal welfare charity Animals Asia – led by its British founder Dr Jill Robinson MBE – has received an agreement from the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Association to stop all use of bear bile by 2020.

The historic agreement paves the way to end bear bile farming in Vietnam which, at one point, saw 4,300 bears in tiny cages facing regular bile extractions. Since 1999 when Animals Asia first started work in Vietnam that number has dropped to 1,245.

Following the announcement, Nottingham-born Jill also took part in the rescue of seven bears from two bile farms in nearby Quang Ninh province. Animals Asia had earlier secured a Prime Ministerial decree to be allowed to rescue all remaining bears in the province – following an ongoing campaign.

Born in the UK, Jill moved to Hong Kong in 1985 and spent 12years working in Asia as an animal welfare consultant. Repeatedly faced with scenes of widespread animal cruelty, she decided to introduce the concept of “animal welfare through people welfare” and founded Dr Dog in Hong Kong in 1991 – the first animal-therapy programme in Asia.

Jill later founded Animals Asia in 1998 – five years after an encounter with a caged bear on a farm in southern China changed her life forever. Since then, Animals Asia has rescued more than 560 bears in China and Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Traditional Medicine Association (VTMA) said its members must continue to pursue alternatives to bear bile and has promised a complete end to its use by 2020. The announcement was made at a joint press conference in Hanoi by the VTMA and Hong Kong-based Animals Asia.

With bear numbers dropping fast and indications that the market for bear bile is also diminishing, Animals Asia is confident that bear bile farming can be entirely ended in Vietnam by 2020. The Non Governmental Organisation – which has worked with local authorities this year to end bear bile farming in Quang Ninh province – will be pushing authorities across Vietnam to make the same commitments ahead of 2020.

Bear bile farming technically became illegal in 1992 in Vietnam when Ministry of Forestry approval became necessary to keep bears. In 2002, bears came under CITES group I, making their exploitation strictly illegal. However it wasn’t until 2005 that the first species-specific regulations were enacted. This regulation made bear bile farming explicitly illegal, but allowed farmers to keep their bears as long as the bears were micro chipped and the farmer had signed a declaration to never again extract bile.

However bear farmers continue to make use of legal loopholes and the authorities’ lack of resources to continue. For traditional medicine practitioners, buying and prescribing remains illegal but arrests are rare. Like bear bile farmers, many continued to ignore the law but attitudes are changing.

Dr Tran Van Ban, Chairman of the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Association said:

“We have worked with Animals Asia since 2010 to push for our members to instead use one of the many herbal alternatives. The use of bear bile is now only among a minority of traditional medicine practitioners and it is something we do not condone. We believe around 5% of practitioners still persist – by 2020 we are making a commitment that through our on-going education of them that will be zero.”

In April 2013 Animals Asia partnered with the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Association to release 7,000 copies of a booklet outlining herbal alternatives. At that time surveys showed that 17% of traditional medicine practitioners admitted to using bear bile. A further 23% avoided answering the question, which strongly suggested they too were using bear bile. The booklet appealed to practitioners to change their ways of working and highlighted the law to them.

Animals Asia’s Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said:

“Animals Asia believes 2020 represents a realistic timeline. The Association does too. We are seeing numbers of caged bears plummeting because the market for bear bile is disappearing. Piece by piece this jigsaw is coming together. We have seen in Quang Ninh what can be achieved with government and local authority support. We’ll now be lobbying government to build on that success, and part of that is committing to the 2020 deadline. The campaign to end this cruelty is gathering momentum – we want to draw a line for when bear bile farming ends.

Animals Asia’s founder and CEO Dr Jill Robinson MBE added

“We ended 2014 asking the Vietnamese government to allow us to rescue the bears in Quang Ninh. It is to Vietnam’s great credit that we have been allowed to do it and this year has been dominated by the ongoing rescue of these bears.

“Today we say thank you to Mr Tran Van Ban. Now even the traditional users of bear bile are stating ‘enough’. We are seeing farms close, bear numbers drop, and together we are making an unequivocal public commitment. The will to eradicate bear bile farming from Vietnam has never been higher – surely this is the time to draw that line?”

Animals Asia has rescued more than 560 bears from the bear bile industry in China and Vietnam. It currently cares for 387 at its sanctuaries in China and Vietnam.


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