Viet Nam’s illegal bear trade persisting more than a decade after ban imposed

15:25 | 17/11/2016 Society

(VEN) - TRAFFIC’s research finds the illegal market for bears, bear parts and derivatives in Viet Nam is still strong, with only a moderate decline in open availability following the introduction of legislation to ban their sale in 2006.

Viet Nam’s illegal bear trade persisting more than a decade after ban imposed

Madelon Willemsen, Head of TRAFFIC in Viet Nam addresses the conference

Released in the margins of the Hanoi Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade, An assessment of trade in bear bile and gall bladder in Viet Nam, analysed data from surveys of shops in six cities across Viet Nam in 2012 and 2016. It followed a 2010–2011 TRAFFIC investigation into the bear bile trade across 13 countries and territories in Asia.

In the 1990s, bear bile farms were established throughout Viet Nam to address increasing consumer demands. In 2005, the Vietnamese government made it illegal to extract bile from bears but not to keep them, and without a government-backed plan to deal with the thousands of bears then held in captivity, many bear farms kept their animals under the guise of wildlife refuges although owners were required to microchip and register their animals.

Under legislation introduced in Viet Nam in 2006, it is illegal to hunt, transport, keep, advertise, sell, purchase and consume bear species or their parts and derivatives.

However, the report provides evidence of a range of bear products still on offer. Of the 70 traditional medicine (TM) and other outlets surveyed in 2016, 40% had bear products for sale – down from 56% in 2012. Raw bear bile was the most prominent product openly available, much of it is reportedly sourced from bear farms in the country. Surveys showed more traders were aware of the illegality of this trade in 2016, and the authors suggest this could mean it had been driven underground.

The most expensive product for sale was gall bladder, the availability of which fell from 12 outlets in 2012 to only two in 2016, neither of which claimed to store gall bladder on the premises. However, traders claimed it was sourced from wild bears in Viet Nam, Lao PDR, Russia and Thailand. Consumers were said to be willing to pay more, up to twice the price, for wild-sourced, freshly harvested products.

“Although our study found bear bile farming is unlikely to be profitable and is in decline in Viet Nam, the sale of wild-sourced products is particularly alarming and highlights the ongoing threat to bear populations across Asia,” said Lalita Gomez, a Project Officer with TRAFFIC and an author of the new report.

The researchers found that the current trade dynamic strongly suggests bear farming may have exacerbated the threats to wild bear populations in Southeast Asia, creating a network of captive facilities where it is relatively easy to launder in wild-caught bears.

“TRAFFIC offers full support to the Vietnamese Government to develop an action plan to eliminate all illegal bear farms by 2020 and enforce legislation on the illegal trade of bear products,” said Madelon Willemsen, Head of TRAFFIC in Viet Nam.

Animals Asia, who provided funding and technical assistance for the study, are among a number of NGOs working with the Vietnamese government authorities on addressing the trade in bears.

Animals Asia has rescued 165 bears, four of them in the past week, and successfully rehabilitated 151 of them into sanctuaries. Together with the Traditional Medicine Association in Viet Nam, Animals Asia is also distributing a guide for alternatives to bear bile amongst TM practitioners.

The Researchers recommend implementing a road map to prevent the sale of illegal bear products and closing down all bear farms within Viet Nam to prevent wild bears from being illegally funnelled through these channels.  

“Although the legislation is in place to protect bears, Viet Nam needs to ensure it is adequately enforced,” said Willemsen.


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