Hundreds of bears need protecting

Date: July 13, 2009

The operation of bear farms for bear bile in Quang Ninh has caused a backlash from the public and mass media. The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has raised concerns about this illegal operation. Despite drastic actions taken by local authorities, including the Quang Ninh People’s Committee (PC), the protection of captive bears in Quang Ninh is currently a hot issue.

Breeding bears for tourism?

A Hyundai bus with the number plate 29D-2365 driving along street 18 turned into a restaurant carpark. After getting off the bus, about 20 Korean tourists were led to a wide, airy house. Some minutes later two staff wheeled a stretcher over to a cage.

One of the men quickly injected sedatives into a bear, which was being kept in long row of cages containing around 60 bears. After nearly 5 minutes the bear, weighing over one hundred kilos, was brought out on the stretcher. Meanwhile the equipment for the bile extraction was being prepared.

The bile extraction took place while the bear was lying unconsciously on the stretcher. The bear bile was pumped into glass phials, which were then offered to the tourists. The unconscious bear was taken back to the cage. The tourists were told that the bear would recover in 15 minutes.

This event took place in a restaurant owned by the Tan Minh Phuong Joint Stock Company, which operates a restaurant business and bear farm for tourists. Since this particular extraction, all the bears at the restaurant were transferred from the Tan Minh Phuong company to the Huong Duong Investment and Development Ltd Co located at Team 94, Don Dien Zone, Ha Khau Ward, Ha Long City. Both companies are responsible for the farming of the bears.

In Ha Khau ward, Ha Long City, there are six bear farms, four of which keep over 50 bears. The owners of these bear farms claim that they are breeding bears for tourists to visit, not for bile extraction.

There are no farms reporting how much money is collected from tourists visiting the bears, and there are no regulations issued by the government which allow large-scale bear farms for tourists to visit in order to gain profit. It costs 100,000 dong in food each day to keep a bear in captivity. Based on these figures, it costs about 180 million dong each month to keep 60 bears in captivity, so if the bears are bred with the purpose of serving tourists only, then the farmers would not be making a profit. From a financial perspective, there should be no reason for farmers to breed bears.  According to residents living near bear farms, 100% of these farms are breeding bears to extract bile to sell to foreign tourists at a price 15-20 times higher than the amount domestic tourists are willing to pay.

Difficulties in management

According to Mr. Tang Xuan Phuong, Vice-chief of the Quang Ninh Forest Protection Department (FPD), about 300 bears are being kept in captivity in farms in Quang Ninh and 80 of them are unchipped.

These bears are managed by functional authorities, commitments from the farmers, the Quang Ninh FPD and local authorities, according to the regulations of the government, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and the province.

Mr. Phuong stated that although the Quang Ninh FPD suspected these farms were breeding bears for bile extraction, they had not yet caught any in the act. The management of these bears, which supposedly guarantees that they are kept in good health and not exchanged, is difficult to achieve because the FPD does not have enough people to conduct 24 hour on-site monitoring at every farm.

The electronically-chipped bears are only able to be kept track of using a specialized device, with which the FPD has not yet been equipped. This device can determine whether or not a bear has been injected with narcotics.

Mr. Vu Hong Son, Party Committee Secretary, and Chairman of Ha Khau PC says bear farming always goes hand-in-hand with tourism activities; however, bear tourism has suffered from the economic crisis, which has seen the number of Korean tourists visiting Vietnam decrease. As a result many farmers wish to sell the bears but they cannot because of laws preventing them from selling, exchanging or breeding bears for commercial purposes. Bears at some farms are in bad health, but local authorities do not have enough money to buy the bears from the farms and transfer them to rescue centers. Mr. Vu Hong Son said that according to local residents, there were cases of farmers killing bears. Upon being reported, the farmers would put the bodies into a bag and throw them into a pond. When the inspection team responding to the reports left, the farmers fished the bears from the pond and sold them.

Guaranteeing the safety of hundreds of bears in Quang Ninh is an urgent issue and requires wider participation and interest than that of functional authorities.

Translated by Phan Giang on July 13, 2009;

Please note: Translated by Education for Nature – Vietnam. This translation is unofficial in nature. The Vietnamese language version of this story can be obtained by contacting ENV


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