More than 80 people from Viet Nam and around the world gathered together on their bicycles last Saturday in the name of a good cause.
Bears romp in a Viet Nam Bear Rescue Centre sanctuary. Photos courtesy of Animals Asia
Apart of the National Park is home to the Viet Nam Bear Rescue Centre (VBRC), which has made headlines around the world after recently being threatened with closure following a land dispute.
The centre is run by the NGO Animals Asia, who have been campaigning to stop bear bile farming for over a decade now. Their message has spread quickly through the country in recent months with word of mouth building, hence the large crowd who turned out on their bikes to ride for the bears.
One of the participants was Bodo Klingenberg, general manager of the capital’s MGalery de l’ Opera.
“I first came across Animals Asia and the Bear Sanctuary on Facebook and signed up for updates a few years ago. I have been following their activities with great interest since, as conservation and animal welfare are issues which are close to my heart.
“Recently, I learned from a friend and work colleague that he had got involved with the organisation of this bicycle ride to raise awareness for the Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary when it was under threat. I was immediately excited to be able to help in a small way and signed up without hesitation,” he said.
In the end the decision was made by the Prime Minister that the centre could remain open to continue its activities. In light of the good news, the organisation’s supporters could have been forgiven for forgetting the ride, but instead they planned to go ahead with it regardless in celebration of the good news.
While the VBRC now at least has a place to call home, its mission still has a long way to go. After the ride, Bodo stated that the situation facing the country’s bears is still highly worrying.
“Sadly I keep on hearing stories about bears being kept in terrible conditions for the amusement of people or bile farming – despite the fact that the practice is now illegal,” he said, adding that more than 2,000 bears are still unlawfully kept all over the country.
Asked how we can act to save and protect the lives of bears in the country, Bodo said, “I think it needs to be a combination of enforcing the law and creating awareness and educating people. That’s why the sanctuary in Tam Dao is so important and why losing it would have been a disaster, not only for the bears but for the country in general.
“Education and awareness has to be the key. I was so happy to see that among the participants in this ride, only three were foreigners and the rest were all Vietnamese nationals.”
The VNBRC believes that around 2,400 bears – mainly moon bears, but also sun bears – are kept on bile farms in the country.
The bears regularly have bile extracted from their gall-bladders, as it is an ingredient in several traditional medicines.
The bears’ gall-bladders are severely damaged from being repeatedly jabbed every few weeks and the process can also lead to a dangerous leakage of bile into the body. In some cases, the result is a slow, agonising death from peritonitis for the bear.
The wounds from the unsterilised needles cause massive and painful abscesses and the bears suffer severe joint and muscle ailments from their inability to move freely.
Their physical pain is compounded with the mental stress that this horrific situation causes and many bears end up psychologically damaged, the centre said.
Medical experts said that bear bile is completely unnecessary as there are over 50 herbal alternatives and many widely used synthetic substitutes that are equally effective, easily accessible and inexpensive.
Despite this, demand for bile both domestically and from other countries such as South Korea remains high. Many bears on farms are caught in the wild either in Viet Nam or neighbouring Laos, Cambodia and China. They are often captured in leg-hold traps – metal contraptions that brutally trap and hold the animal alive. The bear is restrained by the snare, which often severs limbs. More commonly, poachers kill a mother bear and capture her cubs to sell to farms in Viet Nam or China.
Due to a lack of law enforcement resources, this is allowed to continue. Many of the young riders joined last Saturday’s event after witnessing, directly or indirectly, the effects of bile farming.
Ta Ngoc Tho,ï from Ha Noi’s Hai Ba Trung District, said he would never be able to forget witenssing the horrible scene of a bear having bile removed at a farm in Quang Ninh Province’s Dai Yen Village.
“My mother had fallen suddenly into a heavy illness. Someone told me to buy fresh bear bile to treat her ailment. With nowhere else to turn, I went to the farm where I was led to a small iron cage where I saw a 200kg bear rearing angrily.
A young man managed to give the bear an anaesthetic injection into the sole of its foot. Five minutes later it lay motionless, its heart throbbing wildly and its eyes bleary.
“Two other young men came in and firmly tied the bear to a four-wheel gurney. The first man thrust a needle into the bear’s belly and withdrew the green bile which he then put into several tiny bottles. I bought one of these for VND2 million (US$100).
“Despite drinking the bile, Tho mother died more than one month later from cancer in her upper jaw.
Animals Asia has long campaigned to bring a halt to the practice of bear farming. “Central to our campaign is the bear rescue centre in Tam Dao National Park,” said Tuan Bendixsen, director of the VNBRC and chief of Animals Asia.
“It is the only sanctuary in the country dedicated to the rescue of bears, and home to 104 moon bears and sun bears rescued from the bear bile trade. Animals Asia is a charity that is devoted to ending the barbaric practice of bear bile farming and improving the welfare of animals in Viet Nam and China.
The rescue centre is dedicated solely to the rescue of previously farmed bears in Viet Nam.
Currently, we have rescued 112 bears in the country, with 104 still living happily at the sanctuary. Sixteen of the bears were rescued as tiny cubs, confiscated from smugglers en route to bear farms.
“We have expert veterinary and animal management staff from around the world on site to ensure our bears get around-the-clock care,” said Tuan.
In 2010, Animals Asia was awarded the 2010 Carole Noon Award for Sanctuary Excellence for its moon bear rescue centres in Viet Nam and in China, by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS).
Events like the bicycle ride are giving people a voice. Bodo believes that with more and more campaigners and supporters becoming involved, things will begin to change.
“I met so many young, enthusiastic and compassionate people on this ride who genuinely cared and were prepared to give up their day off to get wet, dirty and cold and ride for 130km to support a cause they believed in,” he said.
“Spending a day with this group of people has been a happy experience and has given me hope that perhaps this new generation will have the determination to maintain a balance between progress and economic success, while keeping some space and respect for nature and the environment.”