On 17th October 2023, the animal welfare organisation Animals Asia rescued Apollo, the last bile bear in Vietnam’s Hai Duong Province, moving her to one of its sanctuaries. With this rescue, out of the 58 provinces in the country, only 17 are left with bile farms.
The organization received a call from the Forestry Protection Department about a bile farmer who voluntarily wanted to hand over the only bear he had on his farm in Hai Duong. The farmer said that he bought the bear from an illegal wildlife trafficker in Quảng Ninh province in 2003 when she was a little cub. The rescue team found the bear alone in a rusted cage within an annexe on the bile farmer’s property.
Han Ly Thai, Animals Asia’s Junior Veterinary Surgeon, said, “As we made our way towards the sanctuary, we could observe the toll of her prolonged captivity in a bile farm cage. She exhibited clear signs of stress and anxiety when approached by anyone. Her emaciated body and malnourished state were apparent. Pink, swollen patches covered her forehead, while her canine teeth had marks of wear and tear, sadly a common condition among bile bears. These creatures endure a lifetime of confinement, devoid of any meaningful stimuli or enrichment for years on end. The consequence is a cascade of mental health issues, from stereotypic behaviours to futile attempts at escape by biting at the bars or hitting themselves against these bars. This bear’s condition speaks volumes about the agonizing years she endured.”
Bear bile farming has been illegal in Vietnam since 1992 but has persisted due to legal loopholes and continued demand. In 2017, after years of careful negotiation, the Vietnamese government agreed to end bear bile farming and signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Animals Asia, naming the charity their official partner in bringing the industry to a close and rescuing the remaining bears. To date, the organisation has saved 269 bears in Vietnam and the official estimations show there are 300 bile bears left. However, the Animals Asia rescue centre in Tam Dao has already approached its full capacity, so, in November 2023, the organisation officially opened its second and Vietnam’s last bear sanctuary to save these remaining bears. On 9th November 2023, Animal Asia rescued another bear called QQ.