2012: VN black markets and Korea (dialogue)

Thanh Nien newspaper in Vietnam:

An undercover work carried out by Education for Nature-Vietnam (ENV) has uncovered that it was business as usual for the bear bile tourism in Quang Ninh with at least three local farms found receiving Korean tourists between August and December last year. What is your reaction to these investigation results, given that you have been keeping a close watch on the consumer demand from the Korean side?

Have the Korean authorities done enough to increase the awareness of prospective Korean customers of bear bile farms in Vietnam? If, so why? If not, why not?

We received the news from ENV with great disappointment. I have contacted ENV regarding ways that Bear Necessity Korea may support their endeavors from our end. We have done so in the past, though clearly, we need to do much, much more.
The news from Vietnam is sad, but it didnt come as a shock. However, it is my perception that views are slowly changing. 

Considering the recent reports from VN, I don’t think the government has done enough to educate the public, but I do expect a change in the near future, and I applaud the recent commitment made by the budget committee at the National Assembly. It is possible that illegal activity could increase should bear bile farming be banned in Korea. In my view, education will play a critical role. This will certainly be a focal point of my work in 2012. Many of the local NGOs in Korea have focused on educating children in gentle ways. The recent educational workbook by John Walker and Shawn Morrissey is a great example of charitable work that educates in a non political fashion. I hope this issue continues to find its way out of our history books and into our schools. Another example of a citizen integrating the issue into daily life is the sponsorship we received from pub owner Dan Vroon, who created a beer called “Jirisan IPA”, featuring an image of a moonbear. We see progress. We expect more.

We have seen increased awareness in our airports and Korean customs has included bear gall in their arrival pamphlets for some time. We have also seen a recent increase in penalties for animal abusers.

We hope this year brings about change. I observe that the government is eager to use the Asiatic black bear as a symbol of cultural identity and majesty. I am relieved that we are in a positon to expect heightened attention to it’s plight, the known presence of illegal Chinese product, and pleas from Vietnam to aptly educate Koreans about the law before they visit Vietnam as witnessed in October, 2009, when Nguyen Dinh Xuan, a Vietnamese National Assembly member openly wrote to Lee Maan Ee, asking for an increase in education for travelers. Despite repeated delays, I absolutely applaud this current action, and I am optimistic. This is the first step.
The critical point is that this budget approval demonstrates a firm acknowledgement by the government that the trade will end. In the past, it seemed (to me) that a great deal of focus was placed on ‘how it might end’, or, ‘should it end’, rather than, ‘this will inevitably end, and let’s find the most intelligent way to make it happen.’ That is what I have taken away from recent events.
Korea has recognized the need and taken some action. By no means do I view this as a final victory. I actually anticipate a great deal of compromise as we struggle with solutions which vary in terms of extremity. For example, Green Korea United is known to oppose humane euthanasia. It will be interesting to see how the government handles the current farm bear population, considering so many bears are in poor health and no sanctuary exists. Stakeholders clash when possible solutions are discussed: ideologies differ, and at the core is money.

In contrast to the reports from ENV, Korea has shown some encouraging media action in recent months.

Recently, a local English magazine in Korea highlighted reports from Animals Asia regarding the dangers of consuming bear bile. A few weeks ago, prominent Korean outlet Chosun reported the lobbying efforts of bear farmers seeking compensation. Regardless of which party is speaking, the open dialogue in major Korean media is encouraging to me, as I have often felt dismay at what seems to be a ‘reluctance’ to cover the issue.

This is much more media activity than we have seen in a long time. Most notably, we applaud the recent public commitment from the Korean government, which is the first of its kind.