For the past 20 years in Vietnam, thousands of bears have been held in cages up and down the country so that bile, extracted directly from a bear’s gallbladder, can supply the Traditional Asian Medicine market. So ubiquitous were these bear bile farms that bile became a must in many household medicine cabinets.

In 2006, recognizing the threat posed to wild bear populations, the Government of Vietnam introduced regulations prohibiting the extraction and sale of bile. Since then, the number of bears in bile farms has declined from over 4,000 to approximately 1,000 today. This reduction in the number of captive bears on farms in Vietnam may be due to a combination of factors, including government law enforcement efforts, increased public awareness, changes in consumer preferences, and decline of wild bears with which to replenish farms.

Conservationists have long argued that the practice of bear bile farming is unsustainable. However, this remains a point of contention and some continue to advocate commercial farming of wildlife – not only bears, but tigers, rhinos, and pangolins. Furthermore, although the bear bile farming business in Vietnam appears to be waning, in other countries it is just getting started. Without hard evidence regarding the unsustainability of the practice, it is easy for governments and consumers to ignore the threat that bear bile farming poses to wild bear populations.

The declining bear bile industry in Vietnam presented a diminishing window of opportunity to learn from those who know best what processes contributed to the growth and recent decline of the bear bile business – the business owners themselves.

A study published in OryxThe International Journal of Conservation based on interviews with current and former farmers explores the challenges and conservation implications of bear bile farming in Vietnam. The results show that bear bile farming in Vietnam was heavily reliant on restocking from wild populations, with farmers admitting that there was little to no breeding of bears on farms.

Farmers reported that at the height of the industry demand for farmed bile far exceeded supply, with customers queuing up to get it. Farmers also reported that, having tried farmed bear bile, consumers were not satisfied with the product, stating that its effectiveness had been exaggerated. Rather than being dissatisfied with bear bile in general as a medicine, the ineffectiveness was attributed to the inferior quality of the farmed product resulting from poor diet and frequent bile extractions – attributes not associated with bile from wild bears. Consequently, farmers reported a strong consumer preference and willingness to pay more for bile from wild bears. Although bear bile farming appears to have once been highly profitable, farmers indicated that farmed bear bile is now too cheap to sell, while the price for wild bear bile remains high.

In 2017 the Government of Vietnam signed a commitment to end bear bile farming. Free the Bears, co-authors of this study, are one of the organizations – with support from the international donor community – assisting efforts to phase out bear bile farming by building a sanctuary to house some of the thousand bears remaining on farms.

Previous research has shown that wild bear populations declined dramatically throughout Vietnam from 1995–2005 when bear bile farms were becoming established. The case of bear bile farming in Vietnam provides an example of wildlife farming failing to reduce pressure on a once widely distributed and relatively abundant species. It is hoped that the results of the study will serve as a caution to those considering bear bile farming, and wildlife farming in general, as a conservation strategy.

This study was conducted in collaboration with WildAct Vietnam and Vinh University, with funding from Perth Zoo Wildlife Conservation Action.

Watch a Free the Bears rescue in Vietnam here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdKCsDkrkqA.

 

IMAGE SELECTION

  1. Bears in bile farms often spend their entire lives in a tiny cage. Credit: Free the Bears
  2. Rescued moon bears in their forest enclosure at Free the Bears Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary. Credit: Free the Bears
  3. Rescued moon bear in the Free the Bears sanctuary. Credit: Free the Bears
  4. Rescued moon bear in the Free the Bears sanctuary. Credit: Free the Bears

Comments

  1. Severe animal abuse..this practice should be stopped people that do this An people that think it’s ok are deluded

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