New report from Vietnam exposes persistent use of bear bile

Nov 23, 2010

A 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 Hanoi had used bear bile in the last two years, despite the 1994 official ban on the product.

Continuing Cruelty

Bear bile is still widely available in the country, where approximately 3,600 bears continue to be kept under terrible conditions in bear “farms,” which also prohibited by Vietnamese law since 2005. At these “farms,” bears are typically confined in tiny cages, unable to stand upright or turn around. Their bile is extracted through various methods – including a syringe directly into their gall bladder and the insertion of a steel catheter into their abdomen – and then used in traditional medicine.

Chris Gee, WSPA Wildlife Program 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, 3,600 bears will also continue to suffer.”

However, the report did 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.

“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,” adds Gee.

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; others stopped due to the price (18%), illegality (7%) or concern about bears (6%). 

The data, which was analyzed by Vu Thi Quyen, one of TIME Magazine’s 2005 Asian Eco Heroes, also looked at use according to geographical location. Quyen found that southern and central cities of Vietnam, where the use of alternatives are more prevalent, also saw 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 used – or had used – bear bile in the last two years, despite its prohibition by the government in 1994. However, it also showed that a majority of the population – 74% of those surveyed – is unaware of the ban.

Solution: Supply and Demand

As Quyen says, “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.” 


Alternatives Available

Bile is typically used to treat conditions such as reducing fever, protecting the liver, improving eyesight, breaking down gallstones and serving as an anti-inflammatory. However, surveys of global Traditional Medicine practitioners conducted 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.

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