Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ninety Nine Bears on the Wall

The Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre in Tam Dao National Park houses 99 bears that have been rescued from cruel bear traders.  Before being rescued these bears lived their whole lives in rusting cages after being brutally trapped in the wild.  Many of these bears have missing limbs and damaged gall bladders from being jabbed with non-sterile needles to extract their bile which evil traders promote as a new "miracle cure." Coupled with the mental stress from years of imprisonment, these bears were condemned to almost certain death.

The Moon Bear Rescue Centre has been a great success story.  A wonderful example of cooperation between Animals Asia, the Vietnamese people and supporters around the world.   The Bear Rescue Centre completed phase 1 of its construction, including enclosures and a surgery, and had commenced building phase 2 comprising dens, semi-natural enclosures and rehabilitation areas for the severely disabled bears.  The future aim was to construct a world class rescue centre for 200 bears that would also serve as an educational Centre to raise awareness about conservation and the welfare of bears in Vietnam. This project was agreed to by the Prime Minister of Vietnam in 2008 and was approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in May 2009. It became an example of the excellent cooperation between Vietnam and the international community in support of conservation and animal welfare.

However, this successful project is now in jeopardy because of plans by a private company (Truong Giang Tam Dao Joint Stock company) to build a major hotel on land that belongs to the Bear Rescue Centre.   The Director of the National Park, who has personal connections to the company, has been spreading misinformation about the Centre and has requested the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to approve the hotel development and close the Bear Centre.

Animals Asia has dedicated millions of dollars to develop the bear enclosures, including $240 000 to compensate families who were relocated.  This land is now under threat for a profit-making venture. This is not just an issue of land grabbing. It is a matter of life and death for the bears.  The sooner Animals Asia finish construction, the sooner they can release bears onto grass, into sunshine, into their natural habitat – a normal life.  With your help, we can do this.  These private interests are threatening something wonderful in Vietnam. Something Animals Asia, the Vietnamese people and foreign friends have worked on together.

I am appealing to all friends and people that care about the future of the bears and who are tired of people not respecting the legal rights of others to raise this issue as far and wide as possible. I will provide further information in coming months about how you can help.

Here is more information  about the Bear Trade for those that want to read further (information courtesy of Animals Asia Foundation Vietnam).

Bear bile

Bear bile, which contains the anti-inflammatory agent, ursodeoxycholic acid, or UDCA, has long been used in traditional Asian medicine. However, bear bile farming, where the bears are caged their whole lives and milked for their bile, has been practised in Vietnam for only 20 years. Previously, bears were killed in the wild for their whole gall bladders — where the bile is stored.

Endangered Asiatic black bears (also known as moon bears) are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because their bile contains higher concentrations of UDCA than other bears’ bile. During the 1980s, entrepreneurs began caging moon bears and milking them for their bile daily, creating a small, but profitable, industry — first in Korea and China, then in Vietnam and neighbouring countries. Today, sun bears are also kept on farms in Vietnam. Under Vietnamese law, both species are listed in category 1B (critically endangered) and legally protected against hunting, trapping and imprisoning. They are also protected under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Bear farming

Today, 3,567 bears are held on farms throughout Vietnam, even though bear farming has been illegal in the country since 1992. However up until now, there has been little enforcement. Most are moon bears, but sun bears are also milked for their bile. When bile farming was outlawed, farmers were allowed to keep their bears to display to visitors. All the bears remaining on farms were microchipped so the authorities could stop the poaching of bears from the wild. In reality, most are still milked for their bile and poaching remains a big problem.

Animals Asia has been negotiating with the Vietnamese government on the issue since 1999, when there were only 400 bears on farms. At that time we were ready and willing to help with a sanctuary, offering to rescue all the bears. Sadly, the farms were allowed to continue, albeit illegally.
In Vietnam, the bears are kept in small cages and their bile is extracted with the aid of an ultrasound machine, catheter and medicinal pump. They are drugged with ketamine — an illegal general anesthetic and tranquiliser — restrained with ropes and repeatedly jabbed in the abdomen with four-inch needles until the gall bladder is found. Our veterinary team believes the process leads to leakage of bile into the body and a slow and agonising death from peritonitis.

The trade
Bear bile is used in Asian medicine to treat inflammation, though its use has always been minimal, with herbal alternatives used far more frequently. Today, bear bile is more likely found in quack hangover cures, wine or toothpaste. A cheaper and more effective synthetic alternative to UDCA is used in a range of Western medicines.

In Vietnam, bear bile is sold fresh in liquid form. Since it is illegal to sell bear bile, there is no standard price. However, we are aware of bile sales ranging from US$0.50 to US$30 per millilitre. In a concentrated bear farming area such as Ha Tay, locals pay around US$1-2 per ml. In Ha Long Bay, the going price is around US$6-10 per ml. Tourists from Korea are encouraged to visit a farm during their trip to this beautiful national heritage site.

Although Vietnamese law strictly prohibits the trade in bear bile and other products, demand has increased significantly since the late 1990s. The problem in Vietnam is exacerbated by a lack of enforcement, resources and political will, but years of building up relations with the authorities at all levels is paying off, with Animals Asia now often the first point of contact to help with the rescue of illegally held bears.

The Moon Bear Rescue

In 2005, after years of lobbying by Animals Asia as well as other international and local NGOs, the Vietnamese authorities promised to act to phase out bear bile farming and in November 2005, we signed an agreement with the government to build a sanctuary and rescue 200 bears.

Animals Asia’s campaign to rescue bears from farms and to end the bear bile industry began in 1993 when our founder and CEO Jill Robinson — then working as an animal-welfare consultant for the International Fund for Animal Welfare — made an undercover visit to a bear farm in Guangdong province, China. She had never before witnessed such extreme cruelty and made it her mission to end the bile trade.

Jill founded Animals Asia in 1998 and in July 2000 signed a landmark agreement with the Chinese authorities to rescue 500 bears from farms, to promote the herbal alternatives to bile, and to work together to end bear farming in China. Since then, Animals Asia has built world-class sanctuaries in China and Vietnam, and rescued a total of 350 bears. By mid 2012, the Vietnam bear rescue centre was home to 101 bears.

 Double Jeopardy - Rescued bears face uncertain future

The mission of the Vietnam Bear Rescue Center (VBRC) is to rescue Asian bears from inhumane captivity.  The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) authorized the establishment of the VRBC in 2005. Since then, we have rescued  more than 100 bears.

The current facility is nearing its capacity, and a long-planned expansion of the facility utilizing 6 ha. of adjacent land is urgently needed in order for our Center  to rescue an additional 100 bears from captivity.  However, this expansion is being blocked by certain local officials who are supporting a company that wants to use the 6 ha to develop vacation homes.  These officials have requested that MARD rescinds the permits for the expansion site. 

Your  support  is called upon to ensure that all commitments made by all parties involved in this project are maintained.  

Key Issues at Stake Behind the Land Dispute: The future of our Centre (VBRC) is being threatened because the Director of Tam Dao National Park (TDNP) and the Truong Giang Tam Dao Joint Stock Company want to take control of 6 ha. of  land that have been set aside by the Government for an expansion of the Rescue Center (Phase II of the construction of VBRC).  Our sanctuary is now at full capacity with 101 bears and work has been ongoing on the expansion.   

The Pressure is On Through Heavy Lobbying: The Truong Giang Tam Dao Joint Stock Company and the Director of TDNP have been pressuring Animals Asia Foundation to relinquish 6 ha. of land since April 2011.  TDNP Director and Truong Giang Company have been lobbying the Vietnam Administration of Forestry, within the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), to approve a real estate development project involving the leasing of 48 hectare of TDNP land by the Truong Giang Company.  Six ha., out of this 48 ha. of land, belong to our Center.

Tam Dao Park Director Strikes First: In 2011, VBRC Phase II envisaged the construction of a cub house, and a double bear house with two large outdoor enclosures, as well as a second waste treatment system to accommodate the increasing number of bears being rescued and treated at the Center. 

On September 29, 2011 TDNP Director halted the construction of the second outdoor bear enclosure claiming that the construction had encroached on land owned by the Truong Giang Company and violated the National Park’s Master Plan. TDNP Director also requested MARD to close down the Bear Centre and relocate the 101 bears currently living at the Center.

Tam Dao National Park Director, who is co-director of the Bear Rescue Center and one of our government counterparts, is openly supporting the land demands of the Truong Giang Company.  The Tam Dao Park Director’s daughter is one of the 4 founding members of the Truong Giang Company and she holds 10% of the company’s shares.

As of today, the TDNP Director has ignored all attempts by the Vietnam Administration of Forestry and our Center’s Steering Committee to resolve the land dispute amicably. Furthermore, the TDNP Director is engaged in a misinformation campaign about our Bear Centre which we wish to constructively address with the diplomatic and media community today
or details.
Grateful thanks to photographers Ali Bullock, Eric Baccega and Mark Newman. © Anim

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