Bear Na on her way to BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh

20 Years of Suffering: FOUR PAWS Rescues Former Bile Bear

Without increased action, Vietnam’s remaining bile bears will continue to suffer and slowly die


Cape Town, 18 October 2023 – Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS rescued a female Asiatic black bear named Na from private keeping in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam on 17 October. After a two-day journey she has safely arrived at her new home, BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh, run by FOUR PAWS. Na was kept in a tiny cage in a storage room of a family house for 20 years. Before her last companion died a few months ago, Na lived in the room with five other bears. She had no access to water and barely any daylight. Among other health issues, her left eye will potentially have to be removed, due to suspected glaucoma.

Na’s story is a reminder that bears are still suffering in Vietnam on farms, and help often comes too late as many bears die alone and in pain. FOUR PAWS urges the authorities of all provinces to finally close all bear farms and stop the suffering of bears for good.

Prior to the rescue, a FOUR PAWS vet examined Na, who was in a worrying condition, and gave the former owner, who was cooperative in handing the bear over, instructions on how to feed her the required medicine. Once all paperwork for the transfer was done, Na was finally brought to her new home. She managed the 40-hour road journey well and is now resting in quarantine for 30 days to prevent any potential disease transfer between her and the resident bears.

“Na was bored and looking lifeless. She had nothing to occupy herself with, and she had clearly resigned herself to her sad fate. She suffers from multiple severe health issues commonly seen in bile bears, such as chronic osteoarthritis, dental, liver and heart disease. We also suspect Na has glaucoma in her left eye, which is an incredibly painful condition. She has rubbed all the fur off that side of her face, likely because of the excruciating pain. We will perform further diagnostics and subsequent surgery as soon as possible. We will also need to remove most of her teeth as they are all broken and infected and might have been involved in the development of degenerative heart disease. Now that she is safely in our care, we will make sure Na receives all the care and medical treatment she so urgently needs,” says Lesley Halter-Gölkel, veterinarian at BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh.

Not all rescued bears get a second chance at a better life

In early September, FOUR PAWS rushed to rescue another former bile bear in private keeping in Hai Duong province that showed signs of distress. Despite tireless efforts, round the clock veterinary care and further examinations at BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh, it was not possible to save Khanh. The team was able to provide him with relief from his immense suffering, with comfort, and dignity at the end. Khan’s fate serves as a reminder of the plight of countless bile bears in Vietnam who have already died or continue to endure terrible suffering on bear farms despite favourable progress in some provinces to end bear farming.

“All of the bears on bear farms had to endure excruciating bile extractions and live in extremely tiny cages, scarcely larger than the bears themselves and completely devoid of stimuli. The bears lack everything. They only know suffering. If the authorities don’t take increased action, the remaining bears on farms will slowly die, never knowing anything but suffering. Time is running against us as the remaining bears have been neglected and mistreated already for too long. We are committed to save as many bears as possible, but we rely on the authorities to finally close down all remaining bear farms,”

Magdalena Scherk-Trettin, Wild Animal Rescue & Advocacy Senior Project Manager at FOUR PAWS

Hanoi: Vietnam’s bear farming lynchpin

In Vietnam, bears were initially acquired for bile extraction, a practice rooted in traditional medicine for 3,000 years. Recent studies1 indicate a shift among Vietnamese consumers towards non-animal-based remedies for ailments, including herbal and Western medicine, reducing demand for bear bile. While the keeping of bears on bear farms is legal if the animals are microchipped and registered since 2005, bile extraction is illegal. Authorities have struggled to rescue all captive bears due to their high numbers and a lack of species-appropriate homes. Nevertheless, significant progress has been made, with the bear population on farms dropping from 4,300 to 225 by July 2023. Currently, 45 out of 63 provinces are bear farming-free, but the exception is Hanoi, which remains a bear farming hotspot, with 115 bears in harsh conditions across 22 farms, signaling a need for increased efforts to combat this issue. 

BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh: A species-appropriate home for rescued bears

FOUR PAWS has been working with local partners since 2017 to rescue as many bears as possible from their sad fate. With its bear sanctuary in Ninh Binh, FOUR PAWS is supporting the Vietnamese government to contribute to an end of bear farming in Vietnam and provide a species-appropriate home for rescued bears. BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh is not only a safe home for former bile bears and bears that are victims of the illegal wildlife trade, but also, an awareness and education centre for wildlife conservation in Vietnam. Currently it houses 45 Asiatic black bears.

Asiatic black bears are native to Vietnam and on the brink of local extinction because of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade where demand for their parts and derivatives remains.

Bear Na in her old tiny cage

#SaddestBears in Vietnam

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Daniel Born

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Green Building, Cape Town, 7945

FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. 

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