The newly-released report, compiled by WSPA’s Vietnamese member society, Education for Nature-Vietnam (ENV), reveals that a shocking 22.5% of people surveyed in the northerly capital, Hanoi, had used bear bile in the last two years, despite an official ban on the product imposed in 1994.
Bear bile is still widely available in the country, where approximately 3600 bears continue to be kept under terrible conditions in bear ‘farms’, also prohibited by Vietnamese law since 2005. Bile is regularly extracted from the bears’ gall bladders, causing bears to writhe and moan, for use in traditional medicine and also for entertainment purposes.
The report does reveal that bear bile use appears to be lower in the southern and central parts of the country, where there is more prevalent use of alternative remedies that do not cause bears to suffer.
Chris Gee, WSPA Wildlife Programme Manager says: “It is disappointing that widespread use of bear bile is ongoing in Vietnam, despite alternatives being available and a ban being in place; If this continues, the cruelty that the 3600 bears suffer will also continue.”
“It is clear that across Vietnam herbal alternatives are already being used by many. The government needs to tackle this illegal trade and promote the herbal alternatives.”
Questionable health benefits
The WSPA-funded report, detailing the accounts of more than 3,000 Vietnamese interviewed about bear bile consumption, most pointedly showed that 53% of all ex-bear bile users stopped using the product because they found it ineffective, dwarfing those who stopped due to its price (18%), illegality (7%), or concern about bears (6%).
The data, which was analysed by Vu Thi Quyen, named one of TIME Magazine’s Asian Eco Heroes in 2005, also analysed use according to geographical location. Quyen found that southern and central cities of Vietnam, where the use of alternatives are more prevalent, also witnessed a far lower incidence of bear bile use, with more than 50% fewer users among the general population in both regions.
Report data also revealed that 13.2% of all Vietnamese surveyed use or had used bear bile in the last two years, despite its prohibition by the government in 1994, but that the population is overwhelmingly ignorant – 74% of those surveyed -of the ban.
Solution: both supply and demand
As Quyen said: “To phase out bear farming operations, Vietnam needs to address both the supply and demand sides of the trade; that is, to reduce consumer demand and end the illegal trade of bears. To reduce the demand for bear bile, we need to dispel the traditional belief that bear bile is a magic medicine that can cure many health problems. “
“To stop the illegal hunting and trade of bears, the government needs to strengthen laws and enforcement and create an environment of strong determination and deterrence against bear crimes.”
“Bear owners and business establishments who extract and sell bear bile and other products from bears should be strictly punished, and the government needs to ensure that no new bears come onto bear farms from the wild.”
Surveys of global Traditional Medicine practitioners by WSPA and others have shown that there are more than 50 herbal alternatives to bear bile as a medicine, as well as synthetically produced alternatives. The bile is used to treat conditions such as reducing fever, protecting the liver, improvement of eyesight, breaking down gallstones, and as an anti-inflammatory.