Bear Sanctuary Eviction Halted

A hundred bears rescued from bile farms will be able to remain at the rehabilitation center.
2013-01-16
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A bear relaxes at the Tam Dao Bear Rescue Center, March 14, 2012.
AFP

Vietnam has abandoned plans to evict a center for bears rescued from the bile trade, following allegations that an official had lobbied for the land to be handed over to his daughter’s company.

A government notice posted online Tuesday said that the bear sanctuary in northern Vietnam’s Tam Dao National Park, which had been issued an eviction notice in October, will be allowed to maintain its operations.

The center, run by Hong Kong-based animal welfare foundation Animals Asia, is Vietnam’s only center to rehabilitate bears that have been kept on farms to extract their bear bile, which is sold for use in traditional medicine.

The decision means that the center’s 104 bears will be able to stay and the facility will be able to move forward with a planned expansion, the foundation said in a statement Wednesday.

“Our priority has been to rehabilitate these bears after their years of trauma from being locked up in small cages and milked for their bile. If we had been forced to relocate it would have had a terrible impact on their wellbeing,” the group’s founder and CEO Jill Robinson said.

Land grab allegations

The company had appealed to the Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to overturn the eviction, charging that it was part of a corruption-driven land grab by Tam Dao National Park Director Do Dinh Tien, who had pressured the company to relinquish the land since April 2011.

Tien’s daughter is a part owner in the Truong Giang Tam Dao Joint Stock Company, which has submitted an application for development of a tourist park and hotels at the site, Animals Asia said.

The government notice, issued after a decision made at a meeting Monday chaired by the Prime Minister, said that officials will “clarify” Tien’s responsibilities and  warned that he will be “seriously punished” if violations are discovered, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We are very grateful to the Prime Minister for his commitment to the bear rescue center. We look forward to working with the government to end bear bile farming and help conserve the bear species,” Animals Asia’s Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said.

The group had conducted an international campaign, getting celebrities to write letters and sign petitions calling for the protection of the center, which has been operating under an agreement with the Vietnamese government since 2005.

“We want to sincerely thank the tens of thousands of supporters from around the world who wrote letters, sent e-mails, and signed petitions calling for the eviction to be stopped,” Robinson said.

Bile trade

The bear bile industry is banned in Vietnam, but Animals Asia estimates more than 2,400 bears are kept on farms in the country where they are kept in small cages and milked for their bile.

The bile is sold throughout Asia, and tourists from South Korea and China visit the bear farms in Vietnam and bring back souvenirs of fresh bear bile, according to Animals Asia.

The bile, extracted from bear’s gall bladders, is used in Chinese medicine to counter “internal heat,” but is prescribed for a variety of ailments and diseases, including cancer.

Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.