CNA – Five Asiatic black bears were locked up in rusty metal cages in Phung Thuong, 30 kilometres (km) west of Hanoi, when rescuers found them in a farm.
The animals appeared terrified of humans. Some of them were pacing back and forth – an abnormal behaviour bears display when they are under stress.
“The five bears were separated in five cages. They were all in bad condition,” said rescuer from non-profit animal welfare foundation Animals Asia Thuy Hoang who joined the operation.
“They didn’t have a floor underneath their paws. Below their cages was a gap, and the bears would urinate and defecate in the cages.”
The bears – locked up and held in a holding area with limited sunlight – are believed to have spent 20 years or so in the cages since they were cubs.
Hoang estimated the cages the bears were found in measured two metres in height and 1.5 metres in width each.
All five of the bears were kept at the farm for their bile, repeatedly drained from their gallbladder through a long needle for use in traditional Asian medicine.
This is a fate believed to be suffered by hundreds of other captive bears across Vietnam, where the illicit bear bile trade continues in secret.
Last month, Hoang and her team from Animals Asia – which strives to end bear bile farming in Asia – joined the local Forest Protection Department in the rescue operation that successfully removed the five bears from the bile farm in Phung Thuong.
“If we hadn’t rescued them, they would have stayed there until they died,” Hoang told CNA.
“I felt really sorry for them. I wish I could say sorry a million times to them because it’s we – humans – who put them in that situation, where they had to suffer for 20 years or even more,” she added.
Phung Thuong is considered the epicentre of bile farming in Vietnam, where an estimated 300 bears are believed to be locked up for bile extraction, according to Animals Asia.
Containing high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid, bear bile has long been used in traditional Asian medicine to treat liver and gallbladder conditions in humans, the foundation said.
At present, however, bear bile can be replaced with a variety of herbal alternatives – a practice encouraged by the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Association.
Although bear bile farming has been outlawed by the Vietnamese government since 1992, farmers are permitted to keep microchipped and registered bears in private facilities as long as they do not extract their bile or acquire new ones.
Still, some operators have continued to supply the black market with bear bile and evaded detection by authorities.