Activists urge tough action against bear bile extraction

Quang Ninh Province environmental police recently raided Viet Thai, one of the six known bear bile farms in the province, and caught nine people, including two South Koreans, engaged in the extraction of bear bile last month. 

bear1-011-09wThe incident was the latest case highlighting the illicit sale and transport of bear bile. The trade has gone unabated over the past years between Vietnamese farms and South Koreans travelers, prompting a Vietnamese lawmaker to urge the South Korean government to take action in the matter.

National Assembly representative Nguyen Dinh Xuan told Thanh Nien Weekly that the South Korean embassy had appeared receptive to a letter he sent to the South Korean Environment Ministry recently.

Xuan wrote in the letter that South Korean businessmen and tourists are involved in the illegal sale of bear bile in Vietnam. Xuan urged the South Korean government to instruct the public to refrain from engaging in these illegal acts when they travel to Vietnam.

Even worse, Xuan said, is that the farms sell the bear bile to South Korean tourists, who take the product back to South Korea, unwittingly violating the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The international convention, observed both by South Korea and Vietnam, forbids the cross-border trade of endangered or vulnerable animals, including the Asiatic Black Bears used for their bile.

Xuan told Thanh Nien Weekly that he had received positive feedback from the South Korean embassy.

“They said South Korean authorities have asked airport customs to beef up inspections on the transport of bear bile. They also summoned 10 local tour operators to warn against the illegality of buying and transporting extracted bear bile in Vietnam,” Xuan told Thanh Nien Weekly.

South Korean Customs has also worked with Green Korea United, a local NGO, to launch a campaign this month, focusing on the prevention of CITES violations.

Bilateral bile problem

Despite the receptive attitude from the South Korean embassy, many international activists said the South Korean government should cut to the chase by telling its people that the sale and transport of extracted bear bile is against Vietnamese laws.

Many South Korean travelers are still unaware that such activities are illegal in Vietnam. Only English language media have covered this particular facet of the issue in South Korea, said Kelly Frances McKenna, a volunteer activist campaigning against the bear bile trade and the author of the educational website, Bear Necessity Korea.

She was referring to a feature on the issue published last month by English-language newspaper JoongAng Daily.

“To date, no Korean-language outlet has picked up the story. Consequently, Koreans remain largely unaware of this issue,” McKenna told Thanh Nien Weekly.

“We believe that tour operators, travel information services and the [South] Korean Ministry of Environment all could be doing a better job in helping Vietnam uphold CITES regulations and to ultimately end this trade.”

South Korea remains one of bear bile two countries in Asia to allow the sale of bear bile products, McKenna said.

Toxic tonic

McKenna also noted that attitudes toward traditional medicine had to change in order to curb the practice. “While traditional Asian medicine is an extremely important facet of culture in Korea, cultural tolerance must never become a mask for injustice.”

Tuan Bendixsen of Animals Asia Foundation, an international NGO working in Asiatic Black Bear conservation and animal welfare, said extracted bear bile is not as good for human health as some have supposed.

An undercover survey conducted by ENV indicated that more than 100 tourist buses transported approximately 1,500 South Korean tourists to bear farms in the span of just 10 days in April and August of 2008.

Assemblyman Xuan also said a fact-finding trip by the central environmental police and Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), Vietnam’s first local non-governmental organization (NGO) to focus on conservation of nature and the environment, to several bear farms in Ha Long in May found evidence of the illegal advertising and trade of bear bile to foreign tourists, particularly those from South Korea.

The price of 10 cubic centimeters (cc) of bear bile fetched 600,000 won (US$520) at Viet Thai bear farm, the Quang Ninh environmental police said in a statement sent to ENV. Before the bust, the farm, which received up to 40 delegations of foreign tourists per month, could sell between 20 cc to 30 cc of bear bile every day, the statement said.

“We are doing research on the effect of bear bile extraction has on the health and well being of the bears and in turn how this is effecting the bile and subsequently the health of the consumers,” Bendixsen said.

“We have found that bile taken from bears on bear farms is contaminated with pus, bacteria, toxin, and possibly cancer causing agents as more than 95 percent of bears that have died at our two rescue centers died from liver cancer associated with the gall bladder.”

Law ‘enforcement’

International activists on the one hand acknowledged the ongoing efforts of Vietnamese authorities but on the other called for stricter law enforcement to curb the problem.

“The Vietnamese authorities can put an end to the prevalent bear bile extraction if they want to enforce the law,” Tuan Bendixsen of Animals Asia Foundation said.

“The unscrupulous tour operators and bear farms took advantage of the fact that the authority will not strictly enforce the law to openly conduct international tourist bear bile trade and in the process caused Vietnam to violate the CITES Treaty,” he said.

Matt Wills, Technical Advisor – Wildlife Management of Wildlife at Risk, another conservation NGO based in Ho Chi Minh City, echoed Bendixsen’s claims.

Wills said weak law enforcement had also hampered the efforts of international organizations looking to help Vietnam in this regard.

“Conservation organizations are trying to do as much as they can but are restricted by the lack of legal ability to do anything in the country. All of their conservation efforts rely on the relevant authorities enforcing the legislation that is still very lacking in Vietnam,” he said.

Vague visions

Vietnamese lawmaker Xuan and Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyen Dinh Phu, head of the Quang Ninh’s Environmental Police, said that many legal hurdles had thwarted efforts to stave off the thriving bear bile trade.

Phu said loopholes in the law had prevented concerned agencies from taking further action against the Viet Thai bear farm after the bust last month.

Article 90 of the Penal Code stipulates that those found transporting organs of endangered species could face prosecution.

“But the article stops short of mentioning if the extracted bear bile is considered part of the organs of the bear,” Phu told Thanh Nien Weekly.

“But ongoing investigations have found one gall-bladder seized from the bust, meaning that would constitute criminal charges,” he said.

A joint-circular between ministries of justice, agriculture, and public security guiding the handling of the bear bile trade also contained many vague clauses, Phu added.

Both Bendixsen and Wills concurred that improving law enforcement would be vital to solving the problem.

“This issue will only be managed once the Vietnamese government gets serious about enforcing their laws and managing an industry that they have let go out of control,” Wills said.

Quang Ninh Province environmental police recently raided Viet Thai, one of the six known bear bile farms in the province, and caught nine people, including two South Koreans, engaged in the extraction of bear bile last month.
The incident was the latest case highlighting the illicit sale and transport of bear bile. The trade has gone unabated over the past years between Vietnamese farms and South Koreans travelers, prompting a Vietnamese lawmaker to urge the South Korean government to take action in the matter.

National Assembly representative Nguyen Dinh Xuan told Thanh Nien Weekly that the South Korean embassy had appeared receptive to a letter he sent to the South Korean Environment Ministry recently.

Xuan wrote in the letter that South Korean businessmen and tourists are involved in the illegal sale of bear bile in Vietnam. Xuan urged the South Korean government to instruct the public to refrain from engaging in these illegal acts when they travel to Vietnam.

Even worse, Xuan said, is that the farms sell the bear bile to South Korean tourists, who take the product back to South Korea, unwittingly violating the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The international convention, observed both by South Korea and Vietnam, forbids the cross-border trade of endangered or vulnerable animals, including the Asiatic Black Bears used for their bile.

Xuan told Thanh Nien Weekly that he had received positive feedback from the South Korean embassy.

“They said South Korean authorities have asked airport customs to beef up inspections on the transport of bear bile. They also summoned 10 local tour operators to warn against the illegality of buying and transporting extracted bear bile in Vietnam,” Xuan told Thanh Nien Weekly.

South Korean Customs has also worked with Green Korea United, a local NGO, to launch a campaign this month, focusing on the prevention of CITES violations.

Bilateral bile problem

Despite the receptive attitude from the South Korean embassy, many international activists said the South Korean government should cut to the chase by telling its people that the sale and transport of extracted bear bile is against Vietnamese laws.

Many South Korean travelers are still unaware that such activities are illegal in Vietnam. Only English language media have covered this particular facet of the issue in South Korea, said Kelly Frances McKenna, a volunteer activist campaigning against the bear bile trade and the author of the educational website, Bear Necessity Korea.

She was referring to a feature on the issue published last month by English-language newspaper JoongAng Daily.

“To date, no Korean-language outlet has picked up the story. Consequently, Koreans remain largely unaware of this issue,” McKenna told Thanh Nien Weekly.

“We believe that tour operators, travel information services and the [South] Korean Ministry of Environment all could be doing a better job in helping Vietnam uphold CITES regulations and to ultimately end this trade.”

South Korea remains one of bear bile two countries in Asia to allow the sale of bear bile products, McKenna said.

Toxic tonic

McKenna also noted that attitudes toward traditional medicine had to change in order to curb the practice. “While traditional Asian medicine is an extremely important facet of culture in Korea, cultural tolerance must never become a mask for injustice.”

Tuan Bendixsen of Animals Asia Foundation, an international NGO working in Asiatic Black Bear conservation and animal welfare, said extracted bear bile is not as good for human health as some have supposed.

An undercover survey conducted by ENV indicated that more than 100 tourist buses transported approximately 1,500 South Korean tourists to bear farms in the span of just 10 days in April and August of 2008.

Assemblyman Xuan also said a fact-finding trip by the central environmental police and Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), Vietnam’s first local non-governmental organization (NGO) to focus on conservation of nature and the environment, to several bear farms in Ha Long in May found evidence of the illegal advertising and trade of bear bile to foreign tourists, particularly those from South Korea.

The price of 10 cubic centimeters (cc) of bear bile fetched 600,000 won (US$520) at Viet Thai bear farm, the Quang Ninh environmental police said in a statement sent to ENV. Before the bust, the farm, which received up to 40 delegations of foreign tourists per month, could sell between 20 cc to 30 cc of bear bile every day, the statement said.

“We are doing research on the effect of bear bile extraction has on the health and well being of the bears and in turn how this is effecting the bile and subsequently the health of the consumers,” Bendixsen said.

“We have found that bile taken from bears on bear farms is contaminated with pus, bacteria, toxin, and possibly cancer causing agents as more than 95 percent of bears that have died at our two rescue centers died from liver cancer associated with the gall bladder.”

Law ‘enforcement’

International activists on the one hand acknowledged the ongoing efforts of Vietnamese authorities but on the other called for stricter law enforcement to curb the problem.

“The Vietnamese authorities can put an end to the prevalent bear bile extraction if they want to enforce the law,” Tuan Bendixsen of Animals Asia Foundation said.

“The unscrupulous tour operators and bear farms took advantage of the fact that the authority will not strictly enforce the law to openly conduct international tourist bear bile trade and in the process caused Vietnam to violate the CITES Treaty,” he said.

Matt Wills, Technical Advisor – Wildlife Management of Wildlife at Risk, another conservation NGO based in Ho Chi Minh City, echoed Bendixsen’s claims.

Wills said weak law enforcement had also hampered the efforts of international organizations looking to help Vietnam in this regard.

“Conservation organizations are trying to do as much as they can but are restricted by the lack of legal ability to do anything in the country. All of their conservation efforts rely on the relevant authorities enforcing the legislation that is still very lacking in Vietnam,” he said.

Vague visions

Vietnamese lawmaker Xuan and Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Nguyen Dinh Phu, head of the Quang Ninh’s Environmental Police, said that many legal hurdles had thwarted efforts to stave off the thriving bear bile trade.

Phu said loopholes in the law had prevented concerned agencies from taking further action against the Viet Thai bear farm after the bust last month.

Article 90 of the Penal Code stipulates that those found transporting organs of endangered species could face prosecution.

“But the article stops short of mentioning if the extracted bear bile is considered part of the organs of the bear,” Phu told Thanh Nien Weekly.

“But ongoing investigations have found one gall-bladder seized from the bust, meaning that would constitute criminal charges,” he said.

A joint-circular between ministries of justice, agriculture, and public security guiding the handling of the bear bile trade also contained many vague clauses, Phu added.

Both Bendixsen and Wills concurred that improving law enforcement would be vital to solving the problem.

“This issue will only be managed once the Vietnamese government gets serious about enforcing their laws and managing an industry that they have let go out of control,” Wills said.

 

Reported by An Dien

Story from Thanh Nien News
Published: 13 November, 2009, 13:33:04 (GMT+7)
Copyright Thanh Nien News

 

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