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Rescue centre saving bears from bile industry expands

Update: November, 10/2014 - 09:00
The Viet Nam Bear Rescue Centre has been built in the Tam Dao National Park. – Photo courtesy of Animals Asia Foundation

HA NOI (VNS) — Concerned agencies and non-government organisations in Viet Nam are working hard to save wild bears from extinction and from being used in the production of bile.

Figures from the Forest Protection Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) revealed that about 2,000 bears have been kept in captivity for this purpose, and only several hundred bears remained in the forests.

This is one of main reasons for the decline in the number of wild bears in the country, said Professor Dang Huy Huynh, chairman of the Viet Nam Zoological Society.

If conservation activities remain ineffective, the bears face extinction within the next two decades, Huynh added.

"We must take prompt action to save the bears. Don't let them become extinct like the rhinos. It will be a sad story (if it happens)," he remarked.

In the early 1990s, a number of people began caging bears for use in the production of bile. The activity mushroomed in the 2000s, Huynh revealed.

Professional standards were not required for approval of this activity, leading to the decline in the bears' population, explained Huynh. The Government, he added, officially banned the caging of bears in 2000. However, a number of people refused to observe the ban.

In 2005, the Government ordered bear feeders to install electronic chips to monitor bear activities and manage the number of bears kept in captivity, but this had a minimal impact and the number of bears in the wild and in captivity continued to decline, he observed.

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Experts of the Animals Asia Foundation, an international non-government organisation working in Viet Nam since 2006 to protect the bears, revealed that a bear kept in a narrow cage could not survive when set free in the wild because of injuries to its health and psychology as a result of its captivity.

In response, the MARD has worked with the foundation in implementing a two-stage project for the construction of a 12ha Viet Nam Bear Rescue Centre worth US$3.3 million in Chat Dau Valley of National Park Tam Dao in northern Vinh Phuc Province.

The centre was designed for about 200 bears. A total of 111 captive bears, including seven sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) and 104 Asian black bears (Ursus thibetanus), were placed in the centre after completion of the project's first stage in 2006.

Last Wednesday, the project's second stage was completed, adding four new semi-natural enclosures linked together by two double bear houses with a capacity of 80 bears.

The new construction, which covers about 12,000 sq m, provides more space for bears to be rescued from the bile industry.

At the opening ceremony, Animals Asia Viet Nam Director Tuan Bedixsen said: "The bears come to us often hardly able to walk after years of being stuck in a cage. After quarantine, surgery, rest and rehabilitation, they are integrated into groups in the enclosures."

"For many, it will be their first time to touch grass or feel the sunshine on their backs," he added.

Nguyen Quoc Hieu, a representative of the Forest Protection

Department, said this was Viet Nam's first centre with semi-natural enclosures for bears.

"And it really helped much in bear conservation in Viet Nam," Hieu added.

Viet Nam is home to the Asian black bear and sun bear, which have been listed as vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. — VNS

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