Vienna, 5 September 2023 – Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS rescued a male Asiatic black bear from private keeping in Hai Duong province in Vietnam on 1 September in an emergency action after having been notified by the authorities earlier that day. The bear, whom the team named Khanh, was kept in a small metal cage typical for bile bear farms for 25 years. He had not eaten for two days and was in a depressed and apathetic state. Once Khanh arrived at BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh, run by FOUR PAWS, a thorough medical examination confirmed the sad initial prognosis: There was simply little hope for him to recover. The medical examination revealed multiple highly concerning health issues, including severe degenerative spinal changes and associated urinary bladder dysfunction.
Khanh lost his fight on 4 September. His story serves as a reminder of the plight of countless bile bears in Vietnam who have already died or continue to endure unimaginable suffering on bear farms despite favourable progress in some provinces to end bear farming. FOUR PAWS urges the authorities of all provinces to finally close all bear farms and stop the suffering of bears for good.
Despite tireless efforts, round-the-clock veterinary care and further examinations at BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh, it was not possible to save Khanh. The team was able to provide him with relief from his immense suffering, with comfort, and dignity at the end. Khanh was buried on the sanctuary grounds after a small ceremony was held with the local team.
“Every time we leave for a rescue, we understand the risks involved. Many of our rescues lead to a better life for the bears, but there is always a chance that the animals we are about to rescue might not make it. Whenever recovery is realistic, we do everything in our power to save an animal. In Khanh’s case, there was no chance of improvement. All we could do was to end his suffering kindly, finally free from the cage he spent his life inside. Additional to other problems, he suffered from a spinal condition that left him unable to stand or walk, and also affected his bladder and ability to urinate. He would have died a slow and painful death had he stayed at the bear farm any longer,” says Marc Gölkel, leading veterinarian at BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh.
“It breaks our hearts when we lose one of the lives we work so hard to protect. Khanh’s case highlights that many bears have died and still die after suffering quietly and many continue to suffer in small cages and dark sheds, often in massive pain from years and years in cruel keeping conditions and being abused for their bile. This endless cruelty will go on if the authorities don’t act and finally end all bear farming. These bears have suffered enough."
Emily Lloyd, Animal Manager at BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh
Hanoi: Vietnam’s bear farming lynchpin
Every bear kept privately in Vietnam was once purchased with the aim of using it for the extraction of bile. Bear bile and whole gallbladders have been a sought-after ingredient in traditional medicine for 3,000 years because of its medicinal qualities. Liquid bear bile can be found mostly in traditional but also in cosmetic products of Asian origin. Recent studies show that bear bile consumers in Vietnam are willing to switch to non-animal-based products for the treatment of ailments, including herbal alternatives and Western medicine.
The keeping of bears on farms is legal, provided that the bears have been microchipped and registered with the authorities in 2005. Bile extraction is illegal. Due to the high numbers of captive bears and lack of species-appropriate homes, it was impossible for the authorities to rescue all bears. Since 2005, the number of bears kept on bear farms has decreased from 4,300 to 225 by the end of July 2023. 45 out of 63 provinces are now bear farming-free. Progress is ongoing all across the country, with one exception: Capitol Hanoi remains the number one bear farming hotspot, with 115 bears kept in cruel conditions on 22 farms, and little to no efforts taken to end bear farming.
BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh: A species-appropriate home for rescued bears
FOUR PAWS has been working with local partners since 2017 to rescue as many bears as possible from their sad fate. With its bear sanctuary in Ninh Binh, FOUR PAWS is supporting the Vietnamese government to contribute to an end of bear farming in Vietnam and provide a species-appropriate home for rescued bears. BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh is not only a safe home for former bile bears and bears that are victims of the illegal wildlife trade, but also, an awareness and education centre for wildlife conservation in Vietnam. Currently, it houses 45 Asiatic black bears.
Asiatic black bears are native to Vietnam and on the brink of local extinction because of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade where demand for their parts and derivatives remains.
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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org