Bear Bile and Tiger Meds in Vietnam

Ideas and Issues International

Hanoi     Eating breakfast at the Paramount Hotel on Ngo Huyen in the Hanoi French Quarter, I happened to black-bear-sitewideshare a table with an Albuquerque man now living the last five years in Bangkok. He had been operating a flying school in Thailand, but was now working on various contracts with the World Wildlife Fund. He was in Vietnam surveying bear caging operations. What the heck?

It is against the law in China and in Vietnam for bears to be held in captivity in order to harvest their bile to meet the huge demand in the traditional medicines market in China. From what the WWF rep shared at breakfast, that demand has only inflated the prices in the market. Our guy, Mark, would go from town to town and simply ask if there was anyone who had bears, and to his surprise, the Vietnamese, friendly to a fault, would lead him to some place in the area and people  would walk him into some small room and there would be an old woman and a child watching six bears in cages in a small room, stacked up one on top of the other. The bears were hardly fed, never excersized, and in many cases had rubbed all of their hair off their faces in depression and boredom. Every two weeks, they would poke them with a needle and keep doing so until they tasted bile, and keep the routine up until the bears were drained or died.

He told me stories about finding many of them without a paw. It seems that a food delicacy was to cut off a paw which changed the taste because of the wild fear of the bear. $400 for a paw in Vietnam. He didn’t want to tell me and ruin my breakfast, but he couldn’t seem to stop.

Tigers, he claimed will be extinct throughout Asia, because the voracious appetite for Chinese with money and a taste for traditional medicine means that they use virtually every part of a tiger for something or other.

At one point he ruefully said, somebody is going to have to get the Chinese away from this medicine fixation. The Vietnamese government is the WWF partner on many of these surveys, but at the same time in the countryside he has often found governmental forestry supervisors with their hands out as part of the bear market in bile. I had no idea all of this was so off the chain. Doesn’t seem in the current situation that either bears or tigers have much of a chance in Asia. Poor people. Poor animals.