Caught in the act, bear gall farm gets off with a fine

Date: 15 June, 2010

VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnam’s Chief Prosecutor has instructed Quang Ninh province officials  to impose severe administrative fines on farms caught trading in bear gall, according to crusading National Assembly deputy Nguyen Dinh Xuan.

The sad life of Ha Long bears
Part II: The business of bear farming
Part III: Our infiltration of the bear farms comes to nothing
Police raid Ha Long bear bile ‘farm’
Nguyen Dinh Xuan - a legislator & environmental activist

Deputy Nguyen Dinh Xuan (white) talked with the owner of a bear farm.

In a letter to Chief Prosecutor Tran Quoc Vuong and to Minister of Public Security Le Hong An, Xuan stated that “farms recently detected to be illegally breeding bears and trading in bear gall in Quang Ninh have not been punished and continue to operate. This is an ordinary crime yet punishment is slow and ineffective.  Are competent agencies passing the buck to each other?”

Vuong confirmed that the Quang Ninh Province Environmental Police last October caught the Viet Thai bear farm in Ha Long city in the act of extracting bear gall and selling it to to South Korean tourists. He added that investigators discovered that of the five samples of gall seized from the farm, only one was true bear gall; the four other samples were extracted from cattle.
Vuong said that the provincial People’s Procuracy was instructed to deal with the case. However, Quang Ninh judical agencies were confused, and continued to ask for assistance from the central level.

Under current law, bears are listed as rare wild animals that may not be hunted, killed or traded. It is also a criminal act to sell products from bears like meat, bones, skin, fur, teeth or other body parts.  However, current regulations don’t stipulate that breeding beers in cages is a crime nor is bear gall specified as a rare wild animal product that is subject to subject to the Criminal Code.

An amendment to Article 190 of the code that took effect in January says that “priority is accorded to protection of animals that are listed [by the Government] as endangered and rare.” However, Vuong explained, the Government has not yet issued that list, so “there is not enough legal foundation to treat the bear gall case as a criminal offense.”

As a result, the Supreme People’s Procuracy told Quang Ninh to treat the matter as a civil case and impose severe administrative fines.

However, Deputy Xuan told VietNamNet, some five months after the case was brought to light, the bear farm still works normally.  Xuan reasons that criminal penalties ought to be applied because bear gall is as much a part of a bear as its skin or bone.

And, said Xuan, if the local government is going to levy administrative fines, it should do it now. “I’ll keep an eye on this case because it is a serious violation of our laws and of the international convention on protecting wildlife.”

Xuan, 39, is director of the Lo Go-Xa Mat National Park in Tay Ninh province. He has been a deputy in the National Assembly for two terms. As a member of the NA’s Committee for Science, Technology and Environment, deputy Xuan has campaigned actively for more effective protection of wildlife, especially bears.

In May 2009, Deputy Xuan participated in raids on farms near Ha Long City (Quang Ninh) where bears are bred in cages and bile is extracted from their gall bladders and sold to  South Korean tourists.  Xuan sent letters to South Korean agencies to inform them of the situation and urged South Korean visitors not to buy the bile.

The Mayor of Bern, Switzerland, whose symbol is the bear, presented an award to Deputy Xuan for his contributions to protecting bears in Vietnam. 
Le Nhung 

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