Animals Asia

Tuan Bendixsen and his team have reached a major milestone in the campaign against bear bile farming. Now they’ve set themselves the ultimate goal.

Tuan Bendixsen’s passport may say Australian, but when it comes to the delicate art of negotiation around animal welfare in Vietnam, his Vietnamese roots come to the fore.

Tuan, the Vietnam country director for international animal charity, Animals Asia, was born in Saigon before moving to Australia as a child. He returned to Vietnam as an adult, joined Animals Asia in 2005, and started learning how to navigate the cultural and legal channels necessary to achieve long lasting change for animals.

It’s precisely that knowledge and experience that has helped the Non Government Organisation reach a major milestone – securing an agreement with the country’s Traditional Medicine Association (TMA) to end the use of bear bile by its members.

Animals Asia campaigns against the bear bile farming in China and Vietnam, which sees Asiatic black bears – moon bears – kept in captivity and routinely facing bile extraction from their gall bladder. A cruel and inhumane practice, the organisation works with authorities to rescue bears from captivity and rehouse them at its two rescue centres, one of which is situated at Tam Dao national park in Vinh Phuc province, Vietnam.

In the last few weeks, Animals Asia secured agreement from Vietnam’s Traditional Medicine Association (VTMA) that its members must continue to pursue alternatives to bear bile – the association has promised a complete end to its use by 2020. The announcement was made at a joint press conference in Hanoi by the VTMA and Hong Kong-based Animals Asia.

With bear numbers dropping fast and indications that the market for bear bile is also diminishing, Animals Asia is confident that bile farming can be entirely ended in Vietnam by 2020 and will be pushing authorities across Vietnam to make the same commitments ahead of that date.

Bear bile farming technically became illegal in 1992 in Vietnam when Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development approval became necessary to keep bears. In 2002, bears came under CITES group I, making their exploitation strictly illegal. However it wasn’t until 2005 that the first species-specific regulations were enacted. This regulation made bear bile farming explicitly illegal, but allowed farmers to keep their bears as long as the bears were micro chipped and the farmer had signed a declaration to never again extract bile.

Tuan’s experience and knowledge not only helped secure the TMA agreement, it also helped pave the way for the construction of the bear sanctuary in Tam Dao. In addition he continues to play a pivotal role in coordinating rescues of bears – in 2015 year alone his team have saved 41 bears from captivity in Vietnam.

The majority of this year’s rescues have been in Quang Ninh province after a long campaign to close down bear farms that was successful after celebrities and diplomats added their voices early in 2015.

“Animals Asia believes 2020 represents a realistic time line. The Association does too,” says Bendixsen. “We are seeing numbers of caged bears plummeting, because the market for bear bile is disappearing. Piece by piece this jigsaw is coming together. We have seen in Quang Ninh what can be achieved with government and local authority support. We’ll now be lobbying government to build on that success, and part of that is committing to the 2020 deadline. The campaign to end this cruelty is gathering momentum – we want to draw a line for when bear bile farming ends.”

Animals Asia has rescued more than 550 bears from the bear bile industry in China and Vietnam. It currently cares for 385 at its sanctuaries in China and Vietnam.