16 November 2020 – While rescuing seven Asiatic black bears from two bear farms in Binh Duong province in southern Vietnam on 13 November, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS made an extraordinary discovery. One unfortunate bear has a missing front paw and also stands out among the group for her golden fur– a colouring occurring extremely rarely in Asiatic black bears. Their former owners kept the bears, four males and three females, in tiny cages for almost two decades. They were abused as bile bears, suffering from excruciating bile extraction procedures for years. In a challenging rescue due to COVID-19 measures and recent floods in Vietnam, FOUR PAWS brought the bears to its BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh in the north of the country, where they will now be protected from further suffering. Demand for bear bile for healing purposes is reportedly declining, however, up to 385 bears in Vietnam are still living in cruel conditions on bear farms or in private keeping.
Asiatic black bears commonly have black fur with a crescent-shaped white chest patch. Other colourings are extremely rare, and it was the first time that FOUR PAWS rescued a bear with such unique colouring. The female bear has a golden-brown coat that distinctly sets her apart from her fellow species.
“Little scientific research is available on these rare gold-coloured bears. However, genetic analyses that were done show that they are no new species or subspecies, but a colour variety of the traditional black coat. This is a similar phenomenon to white tigers, a colour variety of Bengal tigers,”
says Barbara van Genne, responsible for Wild Animal Rescue & Advocacy at FOUR PAWS.
Along with her lighter fur, the bear also stands out for her missing front paw. “According to her former owner, she lost the paw when she was caught in the wild with a trap. Captive bears with missing paws are, unfortunately, a common sight. They are not only caught in the wild with cruel methods and abused for their bile, but also mutilated for bear paw wine and similar wildlife-derived products. These are still considered a culinary delicacy in some areas and also used for Traditional Medicine, although there are many readily available herbal and synthetic alternatives with the same medicinal properties. We urge the Vietnamese government to strictly enforce its laws on wildlife trafficking and consumption in order to stop such cruel practices once and for all,” says Van Genne.
Seven lucky bears
After waiting for the roads to be safe and accessible again after massive floods, the FOUR PAWS team travelled 1,600 kilometers across Vietnam from BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh to Binh Duong province to rescue the seven bears. They are between 18 and 20 years old and only knew a painful existence confined in a tiny, rusty cage until now. Once all so-called bile bears were ready for transport, the team made its way back to the sanctuary in another 40-hour journey. “The bears will receive comprehensive health checks in our sanctuary clinic. We expect chronic gallbladder inflammation and infection due to the years of unsanitary bile extraction, and dental disease, but we will only know the full extent or severity of their conditions in the upcoming weeks. For now they are already on individual treatment plans and we will give them some days to settle in. We can already see positive changes in their behaviour, and although it will take time, we will provide them with the best care possible to enable them to become healthier and happier bears,” says Emily Lloyd, Animal Manager at BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh.
BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh: A species-appropriate home for rescued bears
FOUR PAWS has been working with local partners since 2017 to free as many bears as possible from their sad fate. The number of bears on bear farms in Vietnam has dramatically declined from approximately 936 in 2017 to 385 currently kept in private facilities. With its bear sanctuary in Ninh Binh, FOUR PAWS is supporting the Vietnamese government to end bile 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, it is also an awareness and education centre for wildlife conservation in Vietnam. Some of the 40 Asiatic black bears currently living in the bear sanctuary were not only victims of cruel bile farming prior to their rescue, but also of illegal wildlife trafficking.