20080311-bearcag1.gif In August 2006, Frank Zeller of AFP wrote: “Snarling inside a cage and licking its wounds, a clouded leopard is recovering from being wire-trapped by poachers. The jungle feline is one lucky cat. It was rescued last month when Vietnamese guards surprised a trafficker carrying the sedated animal near the Chinese border. But while the 18-kilogram (40-pound) female is now recuperating in an animal rescue center, alongside black bears, gibbons and other rare species, many more wild animals end up in restaurants, traditional pharmacies and souvenir shops. Southeast Asia's forests, a biological treasure trove, have become a gold mine for wildlife traffickers, say ecologists. And Vietnam has become a major Asian crossroads, with animals being smuggled from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia and as far as India for sale here and for export to China, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. [Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, August 14, 2006 \^]

"This clouded leopard could have earned the smugglers 70 million dong (4,300 dollars)," said Nguyen Van Nhung, a veterinarian at the Hanoi Wild Animal Rescue Center. "Its meat would have been eaten and its bones ground up for medicine," he said, pointing at the animal now pacing in its metal cage. "People believe it makes them stronger." In the decade since the center opened it has only received one other clouded leopard, said director Ngo Ba Oanh, which may be testimony to the heavy toll the trade has taken on Vietnam's natural environment. "The cases that are picked up are the tip of the iceberg," said Eric Coull, Greater Mekong representative of conservation group WWF. \^\

“Over-exploitation for the illegal wildlife trade now rivals habitat destruction as a major threat to the survival of many species, he said. "Nowhere is this more evident than in Vietnam, where wildlife populations are dwindling at an alarming rate due to illegal trade and consumption." The animals at the rescue center are a cross-section of the species being slowly wiped out. There are gibbons found in a Hanoi cafe, black bears confiscated as cubs near the Lao border, and macaques from the Mekong delta. \^\

Dr Nguyen Van Song of the Hanoi Agricultural University estimates 3,000 tonnes of wildlife and wildlife products are shipped in and out of Vietnam every year, with only about three percent intercepted. Half of the trade is for domestic consumption, the other half for export, he said in a report, mainly through the Chinese border crossings at Lang Son and Mong Cai, the area where the clouded leopard was found. Song believes up to 3,500 kilograms of illegal wildlife goods pass through these border towns daily, including pangolins, lizards, turtles, cobras, pythons, monkeys, bears and tigers. Smugglers have used ambulances, wedding cars and funeral hearses to smuggle the contraband, or hired foot porters through middlemen so they cannot reveal their bosses' identities if caught. Permits and licenses are sometimes forged, and customs officials threatened or bribed, Song wrote, blaming "influential people", a euphemism for organized crime. \^\

As long as demand grows, experts agree, the illegal trade will grow and continue to threaten the biological heritage of Vietnam and Southeast Asia. "Vietnam has become famous over the past 15 years for the discovery of new species," said the WWF's Coull. "It could become famous for their extinction." \^\

Reasons Behind the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Vietnam

In August 2006, Frank Zeller of AFP wrote: “Like people elsewhere in East Asia, Vietnamese often express pride in their adventurous culinary tastes. A popular saying in the region goes: "We can eat anything with four feet except the table. We can eat anything in the ocean except submarines. We can eat anything in the sky except planes." Some wild animals are killed for their skins, to be stuffed or to make trinkets from tiger and bear teeth, ivory or turtle shell. Others end up in illegal private zoos. But three quarters die to be consumed, said Song. Wildlife meat, and the wines and medicines made from it, have traditionally been believed to have healing and tonic properties in many Asian cultures. [Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, August 14, 2006 \^]

"Many Vietnamese people believe that consuming wildlife products promotes good physical health, often paying exorbitant prices for products and meats derived from endangered species," said another WWF official. Sulma Warne of wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said he recently learnt of a case where a group of men paid thousands of dollars to commission a tiger, which was killed in Myanmar, dissected and smuggled in parts to Vietnam. "It's a status symbol," Warne said. "The fact that you can get tiger meat shows you have money. It's illegal, it's difficult to get. It's like caviar." \^\

“A recent survey by WWF and TRAFFIC found that nearly half of Hanoi's residents had personally used wildlife products, a trend the groups plan to tackle with a public awareness campaign being launched later this month. In Ho Chi Minh City, a survey of 1,600 restaurants by the group Wild Animal Rescue found 15 wild species on the menu, among them deer, snake and turtle. "Vietnam is getting richer, but people also believe in ancient medicine and showing off their wealth and power by eating these endangered species," said Edwin Wiek of the Indonesia-based Borneo Orangutan Survival foundation. "Vietnam is definitely a very big player in this market, unfortunately. It is a consumer as much as a transfer point." \^\

Wiek has long monitored the trade, especially in primates, and recently returned two orangutans to Indonesia from an illegal hotel zoo near Ho Chi Minh City that also kept 70 bears, a tiger, monkeys and exotic birds. "For some people, having a Ferrari outside their front door is not enough," said Wiek. "You have to have a chimpanzee or an orangutan in your backyard as well. Then you're really the man." \^\

Trade in Wildlife Increasing at Alarming Rate in Vietnam

In October 2003, AFP reported: “Illegal trade in wildlife in Vietnam is increasing at an alarming rate, with law enforcement agencies ill-equipped to combat the phenomenon, conservationists said Thursday. TRAFFIC, the monitoring arm of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), said hunting of the country's rare and unique species had become a lucrative international business. Eating and consuming products from endangered animals is considered a status symbol in Vietnam and a means of showing off one's wealth. [Source: Agence France Presse, October 9, 2003 /:]

“Animals were being supplied to upscale restaurants and Chinese medicine markets, earning huge profits for traders, the organization's Indochina office said in a statement based on conclusions from a joint study with the country's Forest Protection Department. "Despite laws and decrees designed to prevent the pillaging of the country's natural wealth, law enforcement authorities lack the necessary training and are ill-equipped to stop the smugglers on their powerful motorcycles and high speed boats," the statement said. /:\

Deutsche Presse Agentur reported: “Police in Vietnam have seized a truck illegally transporting crates of wild animals destined for the cooking pot, an official said Saturday. The truck was intercepted in Dong Nai province on its way to Hanoi. The live animals were packed into wooden crates hidden under boxes of cakes and candies. Police say they recovered 1,050 kilos of exotic animals, including snakes, turtles and lizards. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, September 16, 2006 ^*^]

'The driver and his assistant confessed that they were hired to transport the animals from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi,' said Luc Van Son, a provincial police officer. 'I think the animals were to be either sold to restaurants in Hanoi or in China.' Son said that Wednesday's seizure was the largest in Dong Nai province in nine years. Both men will be charged with illegally transporting wild animals, which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years. ^*^

“Vietnam, with its porous borders and its appetite for exotic animal meat, is at the center of the wildlife trade in Southeast Asia. Even though authorities are cracking down on wildlife smuggling, conservation experts say that traders are becoming more aggressive and that the number of animals being smuggled is higher than ever. Several species have been hunted to such a degree that they are now critically endangered, said Mark Infield, director of Asia programmes in Hanoi for Fauna and Flora International. 'A least three species are at the highest threat levels,' Infield said. 'Soft shell box turtles, which exist only in Vietnam, are at imminent risk of extinction. This is a direct result of the wildlife trade where they are caught and served up in restaurants.' ^*^

Bear parts sold on the street in China

Vietnamese Fondness for Eating Wild Animals

Joel Brinkley wrote in Tribune Media Services, “You don’t have to spend much time in Vietnam before you notice something unusual. You hear no birds singing, see no squirrels scrambling up trees or rats scurrying among the garbage. No dogs out for a walk. In fact, you see almost no wild or domesticated animals at all. Where’d they all go? You might be surprised to know: Most have been eaten. Animal trafficking explains the dearth of tigers, elephants and other big beasts. But what about birds and rats? Yes, people eat those too, like almost every animal that lives there. In Da Nang, I saw a street-side merchant with bowls full of dead rats for sale, their fur removed but otherwise intact, ready to cook.Last spring, Conservation International reported that several varieties of Vietnamese gibbon, part of the ape family, "are perilously close to extinction." All but a few of them already eaten. [Source: Joel Brinkley, Tribune Media Services, February 1, 2013. Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University and a former New York Times correspondent \=]

“All of this raises an interesting question. Vietnamese have been meat eaters through the ages, while their Southeast Asian neighbors to the west — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar — have largely left their wildlife alone. In each of these other countries you see flocks of birds that are absent in Vietnam along with numerous pet dogs and cats. There, people eat rice, primarily, and for many people in most of those countries their diet includes little more than that. \=\

“Vietnam has always been an aggressive country. It has fought 17 wars with China since winning independence more than 1,000 years ago and has invaded Cambodia numerous times, most recently in 1979. The nations to its west have largely been passive in recent centuries. Many anthropologists and historians attribute the difference to the state’s origins. Vietnam was born of China, while India heavily influenced the other countries. Well, certainly that played a part. But I would argue that because the Vietnamese have regularly eaten meat through the ages, adding significant protein to their diet, that also helps explain the state’s aggressive tendencies and the sharp contrast with its neighbors. \=\

Joel Brinkley wrote in Tribune Media Services, “You don’t have to spend much time in Vietnam before you notice something unusual. You hear no birds singing, see no squirrels scrambling up trees or rats scurrying among the garbage. No dogs out for a walk. In fact, you see almost no wild or domesticated animals at all. Where’d they all go? You might be surprised to know: Most have been eaten. Animal trafficking explains the dearth of tigers, elephants and other big beasts. But what about birds and rats? Yes, people eat those too, like almost every animal that lives there. In Da Nang, I saw a street-side merchant with bowls full of dead rats for sale, their fur removed but otherwise intact, ready to cook.Last spring, Conservation International reported that several varieties of Vietnamese gibbon, part of the ape family, "are perilously close to extinction." All but a few of them already eaten. [Source: Joel Brinkley, Tribune Media Services, February 1, 2013. Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University and a former New York Times correspondent \=]

Poachers in Vietnam

Vietnamese poachers — -who often use snares which capture animals indiscriminately — -illegally hunt pangolins, sun bears and rare monkeys which are sold to Chinese buyers. In the remote mountains where the animals are found most male villagers over the age of 13 have firearms which range from old muzzleloaders to modern automatic weapons left behind from the Vietnam War. Much of the poaching done in Laos is done by Vietnamese hunters who catch animals such as pangolins, civets, and barking deer for market in Vietnam and China.

In 2004, police confiscated 1.2 tons of turtles, pangolins and iguanas in Vietnam that were bound for wild animal restaurants in China. In another raid, earlier, authorities seized more than 2.4 tons of cobras and turtles bound for China. Police once stopped a newlywed’s limousine at a provincial checkpoint in Vietnam and found it was carrying 473 kilograms of rare animals including pythons, porcupines and rare deer. The fact that the car was weighed down so low gave it away. The couple were arrested and later admitted they were not even married but were a brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Combating the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Vietnam

Vietnam banned hunting without a permit in 1975 and has signed several treaties, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Yet enforcement is often weak, Song said, and the estimated profit of the illegal wildlife trade 30 times larger than state spending to combat it. [Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, August 14, 2006 \^]

In October 2003, AFP reported: “Even if poachers are apprehended, the authority of forest rangers to search vehicles is restricted, "illustrating how overlapping and conflicting jurisdiction is impeding the enforcement of wildlife laws," it added. The joint study to develop a 2004-2010 action plan to strengthen wildlife trade controls in Vietnam is now under review by Vietnamese government ministries and agencies, along with a selected group of conservation organizations, TRAFFIC said. [Source: Agence France Presse, October 9, 2003 /:]

“Focal themes include qualification and training needs of enforcement authorities and the effectiveness of current legislation regulating wildlife trade. The level of awareness among consumers, traders, and key decision makers about the illegality and unsustainability of the trade were also examined, as were measures to encourage legal trade and improve international cooperation. Hunting endangered animals is a criminal offence in Vietnam punishable by up to seven years in jail, but the laws are widely flouted and rarely enforced. /:\

Richard Grimmett, head of BirdLife's Asia division, said: "Wild animals such as bears, primates and turtles are being trapped or shot in large numbers. "This is largely because of the massive increase in wildlife trade following the opening up of Vietnam's borders and road development into remote areas. "However, it is not all gloomy news thanks to the far-sighted commitment of the Vietnamese Government to biodiversity conservation, which has led to the recent establishment of more than six protected areas to protect Vietnam's unique wildlife." [Source: Alex Kirby, BBC News, March 13, 2003]

In December 2007, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported: “Police in Vietnam arrested two men after finding them in a taxi with the frozen, disemboweled carcasses of a tiger and a bear, an official said Monday. Nguyen Dinh Nam, 33, and Uong Ba Quyen, 44, were arrested Friday in Ho Chi Minh City while transporting the gutted animals to a restaurant, said Nguyen Dinh Cuong, director of the city's Forest Protection Department. The suspects confessed to the police that they had bought the tiger for 56 million Vietnamese dong (about $3,500), and the bear for six million dong ($375) near the border between Vietnam's central Ha Tinh province and Laos. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, December 3, 2007 \\]

"I believe that they are part of a larger wild animal trafficking ring," Cuong said. He said the police were investigating which restaurant the animals had been destined for, and looking for other suspects. Cuong said the problem of animal trafficking was becoming increasingly serious. Forest rangers in Vietnam seized more than 6,000 trafficked wild animals in the first 10 months of 2007, including 856 specimens of rare species, according to the national porest protection department. In August, a Vietnamese court sentenced eight men to up to 11 years in prison for poisoning a tiger in a zoo and stealing the carcass to sell on the black market. According to Vietnamese law, people hunting, transporting or trading in rare animals are subject to a prison term of up to seven years and a cash fine of up to 20 million dong (1,250 dollars). \\

Cobras and Killer Pythons in Vietnam

In April 2013, reported: “Authorities in Vietnam arrested a man who they say was transporting 53 king cobras in his car, reports the Associated Press. The man said has was paid to transport the snakes, which are considered a delicacy by some in Vietnam and are sometimes used for traditional medicine. Police arrested the man and took the snakes to a wildlife rescue center in Hanoi. The reptiles will eventually be released back into the wild. The king cobra is the world's longest venomous snake, attaining a length of up to 18 feet (5.5 meters). The species is found widely across South and Southeast Asia, but is protected by law in Vietnam. [Source:, April 23, 2013]

In January 2007, Associated Press reported: “Authorities in Vietnam seized thousands of snakes that were smuggled into the country on a flight from Thailand, officials said Friday. Thousands of nonvenomous rat snakes were shipped as cargo in 60 boxes on a Vietnam Airlines flight from Bangkok to Hanoi's Noi Bai airport, said airline spokesman Trinh Ngoc Thanh. Thanh said the shipment had been declared as live fish. [Source: Associated Press, January 18, 2007 -]

“Many of the snakes, which were surrounded by plastic filled with ice water, died, said Nguyen Ba Oanh, director of the Wild Animal Rescue Center near Hanoi where the snakes were taken. The official Vietnam News Agency reported Friday that the snakes, which are protected animals, may have been en route to another country. Last month, Vietnamese authorities also found 1,540 pounds of dead snakes on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok. Thanh said the incidents indicated a problem with cargo inspection at the Bangkok airport. "We plan to send a letter to the Bangkok airport authorities urging them to enhance inspection to avoid this incident from happening again," Thanh said. -

In February 2007, Associated Press reported: “A pet python strangled its 69-year-old owner in southern Vietnam, despite his daughter-in-law's desperate efforts to save him, police said. Nguyen Viet Ho was feeding the 44-pound snake when it suddenly attacked him, said Nguyen Hoang Minh Dung, a police officer in Kien Giang province. His daughter-in-law heard him struggling in the yard and discovered Ho with the python wrapped around his neck. She tried to pull it off but the creature was too strong. Ho had raised and cared for the python at his home in the town of Ha Tien for 10 years. In Vietnam, some snakes and other wild animals are considered delicacies. It is also widely believed that they can help to cure health problems. [Source: The Associated Press, February 27, 2007]

Cobras on Buses in Vietnam

In July 2012, Thanh Nien reported: “Traffic police officers found more than 36 kilograms of cobras in four sacks while checking a bus in Hanoi, online newspaper Dan Tri reported. The officers of Traffic Police Team No. 5 spotted a bus traveling on Thanh Tri Bridge carrying many bicycles inside and stopped the bus for inspections. While examining the luggage section, they saw two king cobras crawling inside. They immediately closed the door of the section and had all passengers get out of the bus. The bus driver was ordered to drive the vehicle to a dumping ground where snake experts were asked to catch the cobras. Another check found four sacks containing more than 36 kilograms of cobras inside the bus. The snakes were handed over to the environment police team of Long Bien District [Source: Thanh Nien July 18, 2012]

Venomous snakes have also been found on trains in Vietnam. In May 2011, Thanh Nien reported: “ Cobras in four bags were found on a Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi train. Hundreds of passengers on a Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi train were terrified to see four bags of snakes under the seats. Security officers of Quang Ngai Railway Station found bags containing cobras and king cobras after the train stopped at the station in the central province of Quang Ngai in the evening. The cobras were located inside green, half-transparent bags and the snakes lifted their heads up after people rushed to watch them. The owners of the snakes took advantage of the chaos to sneak out of the train.

The snakes, weighing a total of 45 kilograms, were later handed over to the provincial forest protection authorities for release into the wild. It was not revealed how many snakes were hidden in the bags. Some of the snakes weighed more than 1 kilogram each, said Nguyen Van Han, chief of the Quang Ngai Forest Protection Department. Wildlife smugglers may have transported the snakes before selling them to restaurants, according to Quang Ngai authorities. The venomous snakes are protected species under Vietnamese laws. [Source: Thanh Nien News, May 27, 2011]

Scorpions on a Vietnam Airlines Flight and Piranhas in the Mekong Delta

In December 2007, Dieu Hien wrote in Thanh Nien, “Six scorpions were found crawling aboard a Vietnam Airlines flight on Monday, the carrier reported Wednesday. Passengers on the Hanoi-bound flight were evacuated just after boarding when two scorpions were found in the aisles. Nguyen Long, a passenger on the flight originating in Da Nang, told Thanh Nien that he had glimpsed "a small black thing" dashing across the aisle before takeoff. [Source: Dieu Hien, Thanh Nien, December 16, 2007 ***]

“After the stow-away arachnids were captured by flight attendants, a two-hour cabin and luggage check ensued. No more scorpions were found, the passengers re-boarded and the plane departed. However, once the plane reached Hanoi, four more scorpions were found by passengers in an overhead compartment, said Huynh Thi Tuong Van, an official from the Vietnam Airlines’ Central Vietnam office. Long said the last four scorpions were caught by passengers using the plane’s convenience bags as other passengers shouted in fear. The Boeing 777 had previously flown from Hanoi to Da Nang, and had been cleaned before boarding time, said Van. The incident was the first time scorpions had been found on board a Vietnam Airlines flight, she said. She admitted that the airline had not concluded where or how the scorpions had boarded the aircraft. In April, a Vietnam Airlines flight to Tokyo was delayed after a passenger told airport officials his white mouse had gone missing en route from Da Nang to Hanoi. The mouse was found in a food compartment in the Boeing 777’s galley and was destroyed a day later when its owner did not return to claim it. ***

In June 2003, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported: “Environmental officials in Vietnam are sounding alarms over the new fad of breeding piranhas in the Mekong Delta, saying the flesh-eating fish could spell ecological disaster if they escape into rivers during the next flood season. 'What we now fear most is with the flooding season coming is that these fish may get out of the ponds and into the rivers,' said Pham Huu Khanh, head of Cat Tien National Park's department of science and technology. 'With their astonishing survival ability and breeding rate they would multiply and kill many, if not all, other species in the rivers,' Khanh said. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, June 23, 2003 =^=]

“He said he has visited several fishing farms in Dong Nai province and positively identified that the fish being bred there are piranhas — though other officials said they were another kind of fish.Another official from the Agriculture Department of the southern province of Dong Nai also said the fish were of the piranha species, and expressed concern about raising the flesh-eating fish that can strip an animal carcass bare in a matter of minutes. 'We don't recommend raising this kind of fish,' said Le Duc Hong, an agricultural official from the province directly northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. =^=

Porcupine Farming in Vietnam

July 2010, Viet Nam News reported: “Porcupine raising businesses have thrived in Ho Chi Minh City as they are easy to mate and bring high profits, according to breeders in the city.Porcupine breeders can get a return on their investment quickly, rapidly breaking into profit, said Do Cong Vinh, a farm manager in the city. Some years ago, breeding porcupines were sold when they reached two months of age, but now they are sold when just a month old because breeders need more young animals for sale, he said. In February, breeding porcupines were as cheap as VND11 million (S$802) a pair, but now they are fetching VND13 million ($941). Breeding porcupines can be sold at VND30-32 million ($2,186-2,324) a pair. [Source: Viet Nam News, July 13, 2010 ]

“After investing in a couple of breeding pair of porcupines at VND30 million, breeders can see a return on their capital within a year, and enjoy high profits from the second year, Vinh said. Every year, porcupines give birth to four young, which can be sold for VND26 million, which combined with low maintenance costs make them good investments, he added. "The largest expense when breeding porcupines is their cages and food, which just includes different kinds of vegetables, and can be bought at markets for next to nothing," Vinh said.

“Depending on the porcupine's age, they eat half to two kilos of vegetables everyday, with food bills amounting to little beyond VND1 million a month. Porcupines can be sold to restaurants or medicinal herbs shops, Vinh said. "Porcupine stomachs can be used to make medicine to treat stomach-ache, and their galls can treat sore eyes and backache," he said. Porcupines can continue breeding for 15-20 years. A farmer with a stock of less than a hundred can rake in a billion dong every year, he said.

“However, experts said that although breeding porcupines can bring high profits, farmers should consider carefully before investing in the business. Vo Van Su, head of the rare animals and biodiversity unit under the Institute of Animal Husbandry, said porcupines are reported to rarely suffer from diseases, except common ailments such as diarrhoea and pneumonia caused by low quality food and unhygienic cages. People, however, should still consider carefully when breeding them. "No animal is immune from diseases, and breeding animals on a large scale means diseases can break out and easily spread," he said. Deputy Director of the Department of Animal Husbandry under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Xuan Duong said the department has not developed any programme or strategy for breeding porcupines.

According to the CITES Management Authority of Viet Nam, by the end of last year more than 250,000 porcupines were raised in captivity in the country. The Ho Chi Minh City Department of Forest Management reports some 93 households in the city are breeding 4,900 porcupines in suburban districts including Cu Chi, Binh Chanh and District 12.

Wild Southeast Asian Porcupines Threated by Illegal Hunting

In August 2010, Science Daily reported: “Research from the University of East Anglia, published in Biological Conservation, has shown that the consumption of the Southeast Asian porcupine (Hystrix brachyura) as a speciality food is having a devastating effect on wild populations. Overhunting has been cited as the porcupine's greatest threat, and the 1990s saw a reported population decline of at least 20 per cent. While commercial farming of porcupines has become more popular, and is actively encouraged by Southeast Asian governments, illegal hunting still goes on. [Source: Science Daily, August 26, 2010 \^/]

Led by Emma Brooks, a team of researchers carried out an evidence-based case study to quantify the impact of commercial farming on the local wild population in Son La province in northwest Vietnam. They found that commercial porcupine farming is driving hunting, and is thought to be, at least in part, responsible for the decline of wild porcupines in the region. Under current management, farming could potentially destroy local, even relatively common and fast-breeding species like porcupines. They interviewed 67 porcupine farmers as well as restaurant owners in the region, which lies within the Hoang Lien Mountains. They found that the farming industry was booming, with half having set up their farm in the last three years (2005-2008). During this time the cost of juvenile founder stock doubled. And due to the high prices paid for meat, the sale of just two pairs far exceeds Vietnam's gross national income (US$890). \^/

“But the high price of farmed porcupines has encouraged hunting of wild populations — with wild meat being sold to restaurants at around half the price of farmed animals. Only half of the farmers interviewed were registered. Further admissions included illegally using wild porcupines as founder stock, laundering wild animals to sell across the country, capturing wild porcupines and registering them as births, and replacing sick and injured animals with those from the wild. Lead author Emma Brooks said: "Four farms which were willing to talk openly, reported trading almost 1000 wild porcupines each year, predominantly to other farms as founder stock. With the increase in demand for founder stock, the incentives to continue the illegal trade are considerable." \^/

“Because the research comes from anecdotal evidence, it is feared these reports of illegally procuring and trading wild animals could be just the tip of the ice berg. "We suspected at least two further farms of laundering animals, but because it is illegal, it is more likely that farm owners would hide this information. Figures reported should be considered a conservative estimate of the true scale of the illegal trade of porcupines through farms. “ Brooks said. "There is opportunity for illegal traders to make extra profit from wild sales with continued demand and favor for the wild porcupines from restaurant owners due to lower price and consumers preference.” \^/

Brooks added: "Wild meat in Vietnam supplies a luxury urban market and as such commands a high value. It is likely that these species will continue to be hunted from the wild as long as populations do not diminish so much as to become unprofitable to the hunters. However well the farms are managed, as long as there is consumer demand for porcupine products, without serious disincentives for hunters, hunting of the wild populations will continue. Monitoring and enforcement of these farms and the restaurants is inadequate and needs to be addressed to ensure the protection of wild porcupine populations. While commercial farming of the porcupine is having a detrimental effect, it is still quite a common species. It would be very valuable to research the implications for more threatened species that are also commercially farmed." The study was carried out by Emma Brooks and Dr Diana Bell, from the Center for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at the University of East Anglia, with Scott Roberton of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Vietnam. \^/

Bear Bile Farming in Vietnam

According to AnimalsAsia: “Around 2,400 bears – mainly moon bears, but also sun bears and brown bears – are kept on bile farms in in Vietnam. The bears are milked regularly for their bile, which is used in traditional medicine. On the farms they are imprisoned in stark metal cages for their entire lives, which could be in excess of 25 years. To extract their bile, the bears are drugged and an ultrasound machine is used to locate the gall bladder; their abdomens are then repeatedly jabbed with 4-inch unsterilised needles until the gall bladder is pierced and the bile is pumped out of the bear’s body. [Source: AnimalsAsia ~^~]

The bears’ gall bladders are severely damaged from being repeatedly jabbed every few weeks and the process also leads to the dangerous leakage of bile into the body. In some cases, the result of this leakage is a slow, agonising death from peritonitis. The wounds from the unsterilised needles cause massive and painful abscesses and the bears suffer severe joint and muscle ailments from their inability to move freely. Their physical pain is compounded with the mental stress that this horrific situation causes and many bears end up psychologically damaged. ~^~

Bile has been used in traditional medicine for over 3,000 years and is known to be effective in treating a range of liver and eye-related diseases. The active ingredient in bear bile is ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), which is found to be more abundant in bears than any other mammal and particularly abundant in moon bears. In the past, bears were hunted and killed in the wild for their whole gall bladders. But in the early 80s, Korea developed farms, soon adopted by China, in an effort to commercialise the production of bile to satisfy the local demand for the tonic. The practice subsequently spread to Vietnam in the early 90s. ~^~

Many bears on farms today are caught in the wild either from Vietnam or neighbouring countries such as Laos, Cambodia and China. They are captured using a leg-hold trap – a metal contraption that brutally traps and holds the animal alive in steel jaws. The bear is shocked, painfully gripped and restrained, all while fully conscious. Often the trap severs the bear’s limbs. More common is the capture of cubs. The mother is killed and her cubs stolen and smuggled onto farms. ~^~

A driving force behind the ongoing poaching of bears is the continuing demand for bear bile from within Vietnam and also from South Korean tourists who are encouraged to visit a bear bile farm and buy some freshly extracted bear bile to take home. Due to a lack of law enforcement resources, bears continue to be hunted across the country for their meat and body parts and they are still captured for the bile farming industry. Today bear bile is completely unnecessary as there are over 50 herbal alternatives and many widely used synthetic substitutes that are equally effective, easily accessible and inexpensive. ~^~

Bear Bile: Vietnam's Obscene and Deadly Obsession

In 2001, Penelope Debelle wrote in The Age, “The Asiatic black bear, an endangered species, is caught in the forests of Vietnam and Laos using crude traps made from motorcycle cables. Often the bear loses a paw, arm or leg by the time it is retrieved by poachers who want it as a live source of bear bile. The trapped beast is bound in chicken wire and hidden in the back of a van or truck to be delivered to a life of misery and suffering that will culminate in a protracted and painful death. [Source: Penelope Debelle, The Age (Australia), November 10, 2001 ^]

“Animal cruelty is completely overlooked in this illegal but tolerated medicinal trade that has spiralled so rapidly since mid-1999 that in Vietnam there are almost no wild bears left. For reasons no one fully understands, in just two years the Vietnamese people have become totally enamoured with bear bile as a miracle cure. Its purported powers in Vietnam are without foundation. The role of bear gall in traditional Chinese medicine is established and explains bear farming in China — a practice being wound down — but no reputable practitioner supports the range of diseases pure, wild bear bile is meant to cure. This includes cancer, AIDS and a host of minor ailments, including sore eyes, gnawing pain, toothache, dysentery and hangovers. ^

“Dr Charlie Xue, head of the Chinese Medicine Unit at Melbourne's RMIT, says bear gall bladders have been used for hundreds of years, but in powdered form. It was prescribed to counteract inflammation and infection, convulsions and ulcers. He knows of no evidence of it as a cure for cancer or other serious illness. Bears in China were traditionally hunted in late summer and early autumn and the gall bladder was removed, dried in the sun and reduced to powder, he says. Liquid bile was never prescribed or extracted. Yet to feed this obsession, black bears are kept in caged torment in restaurants and in the backyards of homes, mainly in Hanoi. ^

“Lyn White, an Adelaide policewoman who works with Animals Asia, tried to persuade the government to enforce the laws to protect the bears and allow the group to repatriate those in cages. She said “The numbers have gone from 200 bears to well over 1000 in Hanoi alone, where bears are being kept in private premises to have their bile extracted.”Sunday in Hanoi is bile collection day and for cultural reasons the extraction of the fluid from the bear's gall bladder attracts a crowd. Restaurants openly tout for bookings to watch bear bile extractions, despite its illegality. Visitors to Vietnam are increasingly being exposed to this and White says her organization has had calls from travellers distressed by what they have seen. ^

Unlike in China, where bile is extracted with a metal catheter, Vietnamese bear farmers use ultrasound scans to locate the gall bladder and a hypodermic needle to extract up to 400 ml of bile at a time. “To extract the bile, the bear is felled with a dart or jabstick injection that anaesthetises it. A seven-centimetre spinal needle pierces the gall bladder and a medicinal or hand-held pump sucks the brilliant green bile from the bear's stomach. This operation is performed on each bear every three months. After each extraction more bile leaks into its stomach, causing infected peritonitis.

In China, bears were found with steel tubes inserted into their abdomens for easier subsequent extractions. Other bears had to be operated on to have catheters removed. Many died. "I saw very sick bears in Vietnam last time with distended abdomens who were obviously in terrible pain," White says. "It is difficult to know how long they survive; they say about three years." White does not blame the Vietnamese poachers who hunt bears for survival. They are probably paid in rice or other necessities, she says. It is the middleman who is paid $US3000 ($A5900) for supplying a bear and the illegal operator who then makes at least $US10,000 (A$19,700) a year from bile extraction that disturbs her because their role is built on cruelty and exploitation. "Whether they are the last bear or the last tiger in Vietnam is really not important to these illegal operators," she says. "And when it comes to the buyers, they are being told that if you have this, you won't get cancer." ^

Microchips and Combating the Bear Bile Trade in Vietnam

There is no animal welfare agency in Vietnam. Such matter are handled within Vietnam’s Agriculture Ministry. The first international group to become actively involved in helping the bears was the international Animals Asia Foundation, which is based in Hong Kong and headed by a British woman, Jill Robinson, who has worked to rescue bears in China since 1993.

In August 2005, Reuters reported: “Vietnam plans to plant microchips in an estimated 4,000 captive bears to try to stop wildlife traders catching more of the animals in the wild and selling them to bile farms, state media reported. The Agriculture Ministry said the chips would also help prevent the slaughter of the bears for food in the southeast Asian nation, where bear parts such as paws are regarded as a delicacy. [Source: Reuters, August 17, 2005 ]

“The bear-bugging campaign, which is being carried out with help from the London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), is due to end in December, the Thanh Nien newspaper reported. Farming bears for their bile is widespread in Vietnam, where people believe it is a potent cure for fevers, liver illnesses and sore eyes. One millilitre of fresh bear bile, which is either drunk neat or diluted with rice wine, fetches as much as 100,000 dong ($6.5). 'This could be the beginning of the end of the bear farming industry as the only other countries that still tolerate this form of cruelty are China and Korea,' said Leah Garces of the WSPA. Bear bile farms first appeared in Vietnam in the 1980s and have increased dramatically in recent years, the WSPA said.

Vietnam May Evict Bears from 'Protected' Park Land

Reporting from Vietnam Bear Rescue Center, 70 kilometers north of Hanoi in Tam Dao National park, Mike Ives of Associated Press wrote: “Bears, some of them blinded or maimed, play behind tall green fences like children at school recess. Rescued from Asia's bear bile trade, they were brought to live in this lush national park, but now they may need saving once more. The future of the bears' sanctuary has been in doubt since July, when a vice defense minister ordered the nonprofit group operating the $2 million center not to expand further and to find another location. The defense official wrote, without elaborating, that the Chat Dau Valley is of strategic military interest, but environmentalists allege that vested interests have urged an eviction. They point to documents showing that the daughter of the park's director is involved in a proposed ecotourism venture that wants to lease park land. [Source: Mike Ives, Associated Press, November 14, 2012 /=]

"The expansion of the bear rescue center in this valley will have direct impact on military projects," the letter said, according to a copy given to the Associated Press by the sanctuary's nonprofit operator, Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation. The letter did not explain why the land was of strategic importance. Animals Asia says an eviction would leave 104 rescued bears homeless and waste its $2 million investment, which was funded entirely by international foundations, corporations and private donors. It says after an initial trial period, the prime minister in 2008 approved its plan to build facilities on about 11 hectares (27 acres) inside the roughly 39,000-hectare park, and that the center has so far expanded to half those 11 hectares. /=\

“The group rescued bears that were being used to produce bear bile, which has historically been used in China and other Asian countries to treat fevers, pain, inflammation and other ailments. Bears are typically captured in forests and transported to farms, where the green bile is sucked from their gall bladders in a painful process that sometimes kills them. In recent weeks, Animals Asia has waged a public relations campaign alleging park director Do Dinh Tien has a personal stake in an ecotourism venture proposed for the park by the Hanoi company Truong Giang Group. /=\

Smuggled Ivory and Ivory Seizures in Vietnam

Vietnam banned the ivory trade in 1992 but shops can still sell stocks dating from before then. Ivory-based products sell well to buyers from both Vietnam and from elsewhere in Asia. Vietnam is also a transit point for ivory originating in Africa and Asia bound for China.

In September 2011, AFP reported: “Vietnamese police have seized more than 200kg (440 pounds) of ivory believed smuggled from abroad, state-controlled media reported on Friday. Officers arrested three Vietnamese transporting the banned cargo in a van through the north-central province of Nghe An, the reports said. Pictures of the haul showed more than two dozen tusks. Police could not be reached for comment by AFP and it was unclear where the latest shipment was headed. Ivory seizures are reported periodically in Vietnam, where customs officials last year seized two tonnes of elephant tusks illegally imported from Kenya and destined for China, according to state-controlled media. [Source: AFP, September 30, 2011]

In August 2009, AFP reported: Vietnamese police have seized almost 100 kilograms of ivory, the second seizure of its kind in recent weeks, state media reported. Police found the 17 pieces of ivory weighing 94 kilograms (207 pounds) after they stopped a car travelling in the wrong lane on a highway in northern Thanh Hoa province, the Vietnam News said, citing traffic police. The car's owner said he was bringing the ivory from central Nghe An province to Hanoi, the report said. [Source: AFP, August 22, 2009]

A month earlier, AFP reported: “Vietnamese customs officials have uncovered 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of elephant ivory tusks illegally imported from Kenya, official media reported Wednesday. The tusks were found hidden in timber inside a container at the northern Hai Phong port, said Cong An Nhan Dan (People's Police) newspaper. Authorities are seeking the owner of the container, who did not turn up to receive the goods when they arrived in April, the newspaper said. It did not say who was listed as the receiver, or give a street value for the ivory. A week before in Tanzania six businessmen were charged with smuggling 11 tonnes of elephant ivory, worth around 600,000 dollars, to the Philippines and Vietnam over the previous six months. [Source: AFP, July 29, 2009]

In December 2004, Thanh Nien News reported: “Police from the Ministry of Public Security have made their biggest-ever seizure of ivory in Hanoi, announced a police officer. A truck driver was taken into custody with a load of 730 kilograms of cut pieces of elephant-tusk ivory hidden in wooden crates in a container at a warehouse in the inner-city district of Long Bien, he said. The illegal cargo, believed to be worth 7.3 billion Vietnamese Dong, is Vietnam's largest ivory seizure by far, he noted. The police officer said the tusks had been purchased by Nguyen Van Thinh, the owner of the warehouse, for distribution to ivory traders in Hong Kong and China. Thinh and his wife fled when police raided their temporary residence in Dong Da District, Hanoi, he said. A warrant was issued for their arrest on Sunday, he added.According to the Ministry of Public Security, the tusks were smuggled in from Africa. [Source: Thanh Nien News, December 5, 2004]

See Elephants

Tiger Breeding and the Sale of Dead Tigers in Vietnam

Tiger bones and other tiger parts are often used in traditional Vietnamese medicine. "Tiger paste" made from boiled tiger bones, which is said to heal the bones of the elderly, can sell for as much as 5,000 dollars a kilogram on the black market.

In March 2007, Reuters reported: “A government ministry proposes confiscating as many as 37 illegally bred tigers in southern Vietnam, state media said on Tuesday, but questions remain about what the government would do with the animals. Only about 150 tigers survive in the wild in Vietnam, where much of their natural habitat has been destroyed, so releasing them into the wild might not be an option, according to conservationists. "We have made recommendations to the authorities on how to deal with the tigers, but the issue is fraught with problems," said Tim Knight, spokesman for the conservation group, Wildlife at Risk, in Ho Chi Minh City. "From a conservation point of view, keeping them for breeding purposes would be the best thing." [Source: Reuters, March 13, 2007 =]

“The reports said the tigers were found in Binh Duong province in districts about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Ho Chi Minh City. They are being kept privately by individuals and organizations. The official Vietnam News Agency and newspapers said Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung had told the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to "work out measures" to deal with the tigers in the province. They said the ministry "proposed to confiscate all illegally bred tigers and transfer them to authorised organizations to raise in line with the state's regulations". It did not say where the animals might be taken. =

“Breeding tigers in captivity is difficult and the enormous demand in Vietnam and other Asian countries to consume parts of exotic animals for culinary or medicinal purposes threatens many species. Communist-run Vietnam signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, in 1994, but wildlife groups have criticised the country for inconsistent enforcement.” =

In January 2007, BBC News reported: “A zoo in Vietnam has admitted it auctioned dead tigers to animal trafficking gangs. The revelation by Hanoi Zoo came after police raided a gang in the city, uncovering two live tigers, four dead ones and seven live bears. The zoo said the tigers died of natural causes and were sold for about 125m dong ($7,800; £4,000) to raise money to buy more animals. Under international law the animals should have been cremated. [Source: BBC News, January 10, 2007 *]

“Dang Gia Tung, the zoo's deputy director, told the Associated Press that the carcass of a one-year-old tiger was sold in November. "We thought we should auction the tigers' bodies to raise funds to enrich the collection of animals at the zoo," he said. His admission came after police arrested two men when they discovered two tigers in the back seat of a car in Hanoi. The tigers had been drugged, but woke up during the police operation and had to be sedated again before they could be removed to an animal sanctuary. Officers found four more tigers cut up in a freezer, as well as various bear, rhinoceros and elephant parts. Observers say it is the latest indication of the extent of the illegal trade in endangered species in Vietnam. Tigers are used in traditional medicine and can fetch thousands of dollars on the black market.” *

In August, a Vietnamese court sentenced eight men to up to 11 years in prison for poisoning a tiger in a zoo and stealing the carcass to sell on the black market. According to Vietnamese law, people hunting, transporting or trading in rare animals are subject to a prison term of up to seven years and a cash fine of up to 20 million dong (1,250 dollars). [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, December 3, 2007]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Last updated May 2014

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