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The terrible fate of Vietnam’s saddest bears


FOUR PAWS expose shocking conditions at Vietnamese bile bear farms

International animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has released shocking footage of illegal “bile extraction” taking place on Vietnamese bear farms, despite the practice being outlawed in the country for over a decade ( Despite commendable steps from the Vietnamese Government as far back as 2005, including banning the sale and consumption of bear bile, around 1,300 bears are still living in extremely poor conditions across the country on approximately 400 so-called bear farms.  Many of these bears suffer in tiny metal cages, spending their days in a vegetated state, half-starved and dehydrated. FOUR PAWS research suggests many of the bears are still used for bile extraction and the illegal trade of bear bile is still at large in Vietnam. Bear bile has been used for thousands of years as an ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine products and is still sought after in many countries in Asia.


The footage FOUR PAWS released shows moon bears being anaesthetised and their bile extracted under terrible conditions. After locating the gallbladder with an ultrasound unit, a long needle is injected through the bears’ abdominal wall into the gallbladder and the bile is then extracted through a catheter. Furthermore, FOUR PAWS has seen lots of footage where the bears are not anaesthetised properly and can be seen to be suffering and distressed during the painful “milking” procedure.

Bile bears suffer from nasty infections caused by crude and unhygienic surgery conditions. Regular bile extractions and a lack of care and veterinary treatment result in numerous diseases such as abscesses, sepsis and liver cancer. The extremely confined keeping conditions on bear farms often also cause strong chronic behavioural disorders that can even lead to the animals’ mutilating themselves in severe cases. FOUR PAWS experts visited several bear farms and documented terrible cases of abuse and cruelty.  Kieran Harkin, Head of International Wild Animal Campaigns at FOUR PAWS: “If you see the bears in the cages, there is nothing that meets their welfare needs, in most cases, the bears do not even have access to water. This is ultimate cruelty and an animal welfare crisis.”


Despite there being effective synthetic alternatives to bear bile, today it is still used to treat a number of ailments, from eye diseases to hematoma and digestive disorders. And although sales are illegal in Vietnam, recent footage proves that it is still easily available in large quantities, both on the internet and in many places throughout Vietnam.


Vietnam is one of the only countries in Asia to take firm legislative steps against bear farming. The first step of the process in 2005 was designed to stop any new bears entering farms through the enforced registration and micro-chipping of all bears on farms within Vietnam.  After this initial process, the second part of the plan was for all unregistered bears to be confiscated and their owners prosecuted. Kieran Harkin commented: “Although the steps taken by the Vietnamese government in 2005 were greatly needed and welcomed, there are still many illegal bears in Vietnam that are not registered. We now need extra efforts to monitor bear farms, greater enforcement to ensure all illegal bears are confiscated and an accurate picture of the number and condition of all the bears currently still on bear farms.”


Many of the bile bears on bear farms have come from the wild, where poachers normally kill female bears in order to easily take the cubs. The moon bear and sun bear, both native to Vietnam, are on the brink of local extinction because of this illegal poaching, trading and demand for their parts and derivatives.


FOUR PAWS aims, in cooperation with the Vietnamese government, to achieve a sustainable and animal-friendly solution for the 1,300 bears remaining on bear farms along with a long-term plan to protect wild bear populations. Kieran Harkin added: “We want to encourage the Vietnamese government to take further steps to end bile bear farming, to stop the trade in bears and their parts and to protect the country’s wild populations. FOUR PAWS will support the government with stricter enforcement and is building a sanctuary where rescued bile bears can spend the rest of their lives in species-appropriate living conditions. Vietnam will hopefully soon act as a case study for other Asian countries with that still farm bears for their bile.”


In order to ensure a sustainable solution for the bears, FOUR PAWS is calling on its supporters to further encourage the Vietnamese government to take the necessary measures to end bear farming. All animal lovers and supporters can help the cause by signing an online petition: