"Bile Bears" in Vietnam
A new home for tortured bears
Covid-19 crisis: Animal welfare work in times of a pandemic
Some activities and focal points of our animal welfare work worldwide – whether sanctuaries, trainings or mobile clinics – had to be paused or adapted in response to the pandemic:
Still, it is our highest priority to safe animal lives, but we cannot risk the health of our partners in doing so. To enable us to carry on our basic animal welfare work despite the current crisis, we have developed the WTG Emergency Fund. Read more about the fund here https://welttierschutz.org/en/wtg-emergency-fund/
We promise to do everything in our power to continue offering the best protection for all animals – the stray cats and dogs, livestock such as donkeys, cattle, sheep and goats as well as wildlife like pangolins and sloths, elephants and bears. Please support our work https://welttierschutz.org/secure/spenden/emergency-fund/
The bear bile trade has been officially banned in Vietnam since 2005. Nevertheless, several hundred Asian black bears and Sun bears are still on abandoned farms or in the care of their owners due to a lack of animal-friendly accommodation - they are rarely cared for or killed immediately, and some are still illegally exploited for their bile. In order to free as many of the animals as possible and offer them a life without suffering, we are building a protection centre in Cat Tien National Park together with our partner organization Free The Bears (FTB). There we ensure the veterinary care of the rescued, often seriously ill bears, their care and bear-appropriate nutrition and we campaign for more animal welfare awareness in the country through information work.
It is estimated that around 400 Asian black bears and Sun bears still suffer on former “bile bear” farms. Studies by our partners indicate that the demand for bear bile in Vietnam is falling continuously, but this also means that the remaining bears are sold, killed or no cared for due to the lack of profit for their holders.
The permanent physical strain caused by so-called "milking" and the poor living conditions to which the bears are exposed or have been for years have led to physical damage such as mouth and claw injuries, malnutrition and liver cancer. In addition, the former “bile bears” often show chronic behavioural disorders: They bite their paws and chew on the bars.
What happened until now
For a long time, one of the few accommodation options for rescued bears was the state-run “Cat Tien Bear Rescue Center” in the South Vietnamese Cat Tien national park. Originally built for 16 bears, the protection centre housed 35 animals in 2014, when we began our mission - and thus far more than the capacities would allow in terms of animal-friendly housing and care. Together with our partner Free The Bears, we endeavoured to create more space and more animal-friendly enclosures for the bears housed there in the first years of cooperation through expansion work.
While the urgency to free more bears from their painful captivity was great, admitting them to the existing rescue centre was not an option. It needed more space and a permanent solution to house the bears for life. Because after years of private keeping, the animals are no longer able to survive in the wild.
Construction of a new sanctuary
In order to create capacity to accommodate more bears, we and our partners in 2014 began to build a completely new and, above all, larger sanctuary not far from the old centre: the Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary.
- At the end of 2017, the first two bear houses with attached spacious enclosures were completed. By March 2018, 25 Asian black bears and Sun bears had been relocated from the state rescue centre to the new, bear-friendly sanctuary.
- In autumn 2019, the third bear house, including an extensive outdoor area, was completed, which offered space for a further 16 bears.
- In 2019, we then set up a veterinary clinic on site in order to be able to provide adequate veterinary care for the animals, which often suffer from chronic diseases as a result of captivity, malnutrition and the extraction of bile. The specialty of the clinic is a pane of glass that separates the spacious operating room from a conference room. This enables both veterinary students and veterinarians to watch treatments and exchange ideas without disturbing or endangering the animals.
- At the beginning of 2020, two more buildings constructed and equipped with our support were completed: One is used to store and prepare feed (including meat, fresh fruit and vegetables). The activity materials for the bears are also produced and stored here. The second is the animal keepers’ wing, where the employees can change clothes and store their personal belongings, equipped with a hygiene area with our help. This serves to reduce the risk of the transmission of pathogens to the bears to a minimum and to contribute to the stable health of the animals.
In addition, through financing of employees’ salaries, we ensure that both the care of the bears and the progress of the construction work are guaranteed.
Safe home for more than 50 bears
As of now, 37 animals are housed in a natural and spacious environment in the protection centre on a total area of around 28,500 m2: They receive bear-friendly food, extensive veterinary care and have the opportunity to live a safe bear life free of suffering until the end of their lives. The bears are also provided with activities such as climbing towers, hammocks and bathing facilities in the forest enclosures. Numerous trees and bushes enable the animals to rediscover their natural behaviour and live it out in the best possible way, and at the same time offer them opportunities to retreat. One of the bear houses is also »specially designed for the needs of older bears.
In order to free even more animals from painful conditions in the future and to be able to accommodate them in the protection centre, we are continuously expanding our capacities: a fourth bear house is currently in the final construction phase and another - as an extension of the first bear house - is in the planning stage. In addition, an artificial reed system is to be created, through which the water used for cleaning the bear house can be disposed of sustainably and also provides a habitat for local animal species such as frogs and insects.
With the completion of the two additional buildings and outdoor enclosures, 35,000 square meters of living space for more than 50 bears will be available in the protection centre in the long term.
In addition, the old rescue centre, which we expanded in the past, now offers enough space for more rescued bears: The old rescue centre is now primarily used as a quarantine station. Thanks to the space freed up by the relocation of the bears to the new sanctuary, we were able to rescue seven more bears (as of November 2021) from painful conditions in the years 2020 to 2021 alone.
In the new sanctuary, the bears are given every opportunity to regain and express their natural behaviour. With our support, the German behavioural biologist Dr. Marion Schneider observed the animals in the state rescue centre over a longer period of time before the centre was completed and incorporated her findings into the planning of the new building. After an acclimatization phase in the newly built enclosures, the anmals’ behaviour was analysed again. The results of the study underline that the way in which Asian black bears and Sun bears are housed has a significant impact on the stress and welfare of the animals, and shows how important it is for bears in captivity to have as large a natural environment as possible so that they can adequately express their species-appropriate behaviour. On the basis of further daily observations of the bears in the new protection centre, biannual evaluations of the behaviour take place, with the help of which it is ensured that new problems are recognized and addressed in good time - for example with adapted employment opportunities that further increase the well-being of the animals.
Animal welfare education for a sustainable change in awareness
Because tens of thousands of visitors come to the Cat Tien National Park every year, which is also where the new protection centre is located, there is an ideal opportunity for extensive animal welfare education: As part of guided tours, we provide information about the situation of the animals and their needs, show the problems of bile extraction and thus reduce the demand for such products. The visitors are also actively involved, for example by equipping the activity materials for the animals with food and sensitized to the natural behaviour of the bears.
As a result of the corona pandemic and the associated restrictions, the protection centre has had lower visitor numbers than usual since 2020. But with better times hopefully in sight, we are now supporting the expansion of the “Bear Discovery Center”: an information centre in the protection centre that will enable visitors to interactively find out about the protection of bears and their needs.
Please donate for this comprehensive project - so that the bears can finally leave their lives of suffering behind and be cared for according to their needs in the protection centre for their entire life.