Micro chipped bears still being slaughtered for food
Date: 31 October 2007
According to government regulations, bear owners are required to tag their bears with microchips and are not permitted to either trade or slaughter them. They must keep them until they die of natural causes. However recently, as bile bear prices continue to drop, bear owners are seeking to get rid of their bears by any means possible, including trading them on the black market, transferring them to other owners, slaughtering them and even giving them away free of charge.
Microchip tagging all but useless
At the end of September 2007, in Hung Yen district and Ha Long city (Quang Ninh), the Department of Environmental Police uncovered the largest case involving the illegal transport and farming of bears to date.
Of 281 bears found on six farms belonging to restaurants, hotels and tourism companies, up to 80 bears (ranging in weight from 50 kg to 200kg) were found without microchips. This constitutes a serious violation of captive bear management regulations.
The owners of these farms admitted that many of these bears had been bought from other bear farms in Hanoi and Ha Tay. Reporters from the Saigon Liberation Newspaper 12 Hour came to the "largest center for captive bears" in the North, Phung Thuong village of Phuc Tho district (Ha Tay), to investigate.
The Commune's Deputy Director of the Phung Thuong People's Committee Head Office, Mr Nguyen Quoc Ly, admitted that two years ago, there were still 400 bears being farmed by villagers. However, because of the rapid fall in bear bile prices, to as low as 20,000 VND/cc, hundreds of bears have been quickly sold, slaughtered, or even given away free of charge so the villagers could regain their initial investment.
According to Mr. Ly, most of the bears in the village were transferred to Hai Phong or Quang Ninh so they could be resold. By mid October, 2007, there were only 90 Asiatic Black bears left, scattered around a few farms.
According to the Forest Protection Department (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development - MARD), in order to prevent illegal activities including hunting, trading, farming and exploitation of wild bear bile, from August 2005, bears were microchipped nationwide. Each microchip was intended to act as a bear's "identification card", allowing the authorities to keep track of the identity and location of the bear.
In accordance with this decision, 4,349 bears from throughout the country were tagged with microchips. The deadline by which all microchipping had to be completed and all captive bears registered was 31st December 2006 .After this date, any bears found without microchips were to be considered illegal by the State.
MARD also promulgated a regulation relating to captive bear management. It stipulated that owners of microchipped bears were required to keep farmed bears their whole lives. If bear cubs are born to microchips tagged bears, the bear owners are allowed to keep them on the farm for one year, after which time the State is required to deliver them to a Wildlife Rescue Center.
The regulation also clearly stipulates that it is illegal to trade bears (including those tagged with microchips) or to slaughter, exploit, or trade bear organs. If the bear farmers need to transfer a bear out of its home province or city, they must obtain a special authorization from the Forest Protection Department.
MARD believed that microchipping and registering bears would help stop the widespread practice of trading and slaughtering bears, as well as bear bile extraction.
Selling bears as though they were pigs
The fact that hundreds of bears in Phung Thuong (Ha Tay) were secretly transferred to Hai Phong and Quang Ninh proves that electronic microchipping is not an effective solution. This is because most of the bear owners who illegally transferred their bears to other farms supposedly believed that because their bears were tagged with microchips, this gave them the right to legally sell their bears to other farms.
The companies and restaurants in Hai Phong and Quang Ninh also thought that microchipped bears were legal, and could therefore be transferred between owners in the same way as land listed on the "red register". Evidence for this comes from the statements of six bear owners in Quang Ninh, who were discovered in possession of 281 illegal bears. They stated that they had "collected" many of these bears from 14 bear owners residing in various provinces. This suggests that bears are now being traded freely in the same way as pigs or dogs.
In addition to this, there is evidence to suggest that the trade and transfer of bears at this time was not necessarily occurring in a humane manner. Those bears from which bile could still be extracted were kept so that the bile could be sold for profit. Old bears however, which were nearly exhausted of bile, were slaughtered to be served to tourists or to be processed into a "spice" to make tiger bone glue.
In Ha Long City (Quang Ninh), captive bears are only provided with food suitable for pigs, such as green vegetables, pumpkin, and mash. Similarly, in Phung Thuong (Ha Tay), the money spent on food for the bears was cut from 40,000 VND to just 8,000 VND per bear. When a bear dies, the owners inform the rangers that it died as a result of illness. The rangers then come and confirm this, and the matter is considered closed.
As for the 80 unknown bears found without electronic microchips in Quang Ninh, these were thought to have been traded from abroad to Vietnam, because it is highly unlikely that a female bear would be able to reproduce in captivity. Mr Hoang Xuan Chinh, Deputy Manager for the Forest Protection Department, emphasized the importance of confiscating these bears and criminally prosecuting those involved.
The case of the 80 unchipped bears suggests that the illegal trade of wild bears hasn’t decreased in spite of having implemented mandatory bear chipping. This kind of illegal activity will never end while the respective responsibilities of the Agency Forest Protection Department remain unclear.
Van Phuc Hau
Translated by Tran Thi Nguyet; edited by Laura Whitford on 27 February 2008
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