TORONTO, Aug. 27, 2013 /CNW/ - Recently, there has been an outcry from concerned citizens across Vietnam, calling for an end to the cruel and illegal bear bile industry. 110,000 Vietnamese citizens pledged to never use bear bile products. But despite growing public support for better bear welfare and the practice of extracting bile being made illegal in 2005, an active black market trade still exists and thousands of bears are still suffering.
Since the 1980s, bears have been kept in captivity in some Asian countries (particularly Vietnam, Korea, China, Laos and Myanmar) in order to extract their bile for sale in traditional medicines. Thought by some to cure hangovers, help treat liver and heart disease and even cancer, bear bile is now also added to non-medical products like energy drinks, toothpaste and shampoo. Many cheaper and equally effective herbal alternatives exist.
Conditions on these bear factory farms are brutal. The majority of bears still kept in Vietnamese facilities are forced to live in tiny cages - not much bigger than themselves. "They endure appalling conditions and repeated extraction procedures, leaving them scarred mentally and physically for the duration of their lives, which could be up to 20 years", said Josey Kitson Executive Director of the World Society for the Protection of Animals in Canada.
In 2005, WSPA was invited by the Vietnam Government to work on a strategy to phase out the bear bile industry, which they had just made illegal. With local partners Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) WSPA has also supported grassroots public education initiatives and a wildlife crimes hotline. As a result, the number of bears caught up in the bear bile industry has declined by almost 50% (from 4,500 in 2005 to 2,300 in 2013).These efforts have made a big impact for bears but many are still suffering. On the ground investigations by WSPA show an illicit market for bear bile persists. "Unfortunately today a black market still exists for bear bile in Vietnam and despite being illegal, it isn't as underground as you might think", said Luke Nicholson, WSPA Bears in the Wild Project Manager based in the Asia-Pacific region. "Conflicting legislation and inadequate policing and enforcement means a black market can still thrive. Our priority now is to work within the Vietnamese legal system to close loopholes and improve enforcement. We want to amplify the voices of our local partners and end this trade for good", said Nicholson.