Vietnam cannot have both Bears and bear bile

Ha Noi, November 23th, 2010 – Twenty two percent of Vietnamese people said that they have used bear bile in the past, according to the findings of the study by Education for Nature-Vietnam (ENV) on attitudes associated with bear bile use in Vietnam.

A total of 3,032 people were surveyed in three major cities in Vietnam; Hanoi (north), Da Nang (central) and Ho Chi Minh city (south). The participants were randomly selected and interviewed by telephone to analyze the motivation behind bear bile consumption and evaluate demographic differences between respondents in their attitudes toward the use of bear bile.

The survey results suggested that:

  • Bear bile is considered as a magic medicine that can cure a range of health problems from muscle complaints, bruises, digestive problems or even cancer. Bear bile is mainly used to treat specific health problems (73%). Bear bile is also used for general health improvement (24%) and entertainment purposes (14%).


  • Hanoi has a much higher percentage of bear bile users than both Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City.  Thirty-five percent of survey participants in Hanoi claimed that they have used bear bile in the past, while only 16% of those in Ho Chi Minh and 15% in Da Nang said that they have used bear bile.


  • The percentage of men using bear bile is higher than the percentage of women in all three cities. Almost 1/3 of all male survey participants (29%) claimed to have consumed bear bile in the past compared to 17% of all women surveyed.


  • People with higher education levels (college degree or higher) are more likely to use bear bile than people with lower education levels (high schools or lower levels). Bear bile consumption also rises with age and the use of bear bile is different between age groups.


Vietnam is home to two species of bears, the Asiatic Black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and the Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus). Both of these species are being pushed to the edge of extinction, mainly due the illegal hunting and trade to support the demand for bear bile used as a traditional form of medicine. Bears are usually captured as cubs in the wild and sold to bear farms where they are raised and used to extract bile from the gall bladder. Currently there are about 3,500 bears on farms in Vietnam, most of which originated from the wild.  

“Vietnam’s bears are in trouble,” says Ms. Vu Thi Quyen, founding director and the author of the report. “Urgent and tough measures are needed to put an end to bear farming and trade in Vietnam.”

Based on the findings from this study, ENV recommends following actions:

  • A long-term and sustained awareness campaign must be carried out with the aim of dispelling the belief that bear bile is a form of magic medicine. The campaign should also promote medical alternatives to bear bile (both herbal and western medicine) and its perceived ineffectiveness as reported by former users.


  • Stronger laws and more effective enforcement are critical to efforts to phase out bear farming and eliminating bear bile consumption.  All unregistered bears discovered by authorities should be confiscated and the owners appropriately punished.


  • Studies should be carried out to identify critically important wild populations of bears in Vietnam for which protection and recovery efforts should be prioritized, and an analysis of commercial farming of bears and other endangered species and its impact on species conservation should be concluded.


The results of the study will help authorities and conservation organizations to develop more effective measures to address bear bile consumption and trade in Vietnam and enhance protection for what may be Vietnam’s last remaining bears in the wild.   

“We need to face a tough choice,” says Ms. Quyen, “Vietnam can’t have its’ bears and bear bile too.”

The full results of the study have been compiled in a report, An Analysis of Attitudes and Bear Bile Use in Vietnam (Vietnamese and English version).  ENV wishes to thank the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) for supporting this important study.