TAM DAO Nineteen bears that were rescued from an illegal bile farm in Binh Duong Province are being taken to the Moon Bear Rescue Centre near Ha Noi run by Animals Asia.
The bears, nine males and 10 females, were loaded onto three trucks early on Monday and are heading north along Highway 1, said Tuan Bendixsen, Animals Asia s Viet Nam director.
"We plan to drive through the night. The trucks and our support van have two drivers who will take shifts. We want to get the bears to the sanctuary and out of those terrible containers as quickly as possible. We re hoping to get to Hue on Tuesday night and to Tam Dao by Thursday morning," he said.
Kirsty Officer, Animals Asia s vet, said that once the bears arrived at the sanctuary it would take two to three days to move them from the containers into quarantine cages.
"We ll remove the bears one-by-one, anaesthetising each one and giving them an initial health check and prioritise them for surgery or other urgent treatment," she said.
The owner of the farm, a Taiwanese businessman, had kept the bears in tiny concrete cells for six to seven years.
Animals Asia stepped in when officials from the national and Binh Duong forest protection departments asked for help after deciding to close down the farm a few weeks ago.
Officials said the farm did not meet regulations governing minimum cage-size and ventilation.
The bears were moved into larger cargo containers two months ago after the authorities told the owner the concrete holding cells were illegal.
Initially there were 25 bears at the farm but five were earlier confiscated by the authorities and another died when having its bile extracted.
Tuan said all the bears at the farm had been caught in the wild.
"One is blind and two are missing limbs. We also believe that all the bears on this bile farm arrived either as cubs or juveniles (40kg-50kg)," he said.
"The containers are divided into six or seven compartments with one bear per compartment. This is the first time we ve seen bears kept under such bad conditions."
Bear bile milking was banned in Viet Nam 15 years ago but farmers were allowed to keep the bears they already had to display to tourists. All the bears on farms at that time were microchipped so the authorities could monitor if any new animals were being captured illegally.
The bears were last milked for their bile about a month ago and two were not microchipped, according to staff at the Binh Duong farm.
He added that the bears were all close to death. "It would have been so hot and suffocating for the bears in those containers over the summer months. I doubt they would have survived," Tuan said.
Jill Robinson, Animals Asia Founder and CEO, said the actions of the authorities in closing down the farm demonstrated a willingness to uphold the law.
"We re very excited that both the central and local forestry officials have made this a priority and are showing strong leadership in enforcing the law that was passed to protect this majestic species. The Asiatic black bear, or moon bear, is already under threat of extinction. There is no time to waste in stamping out this terrible industry," Robinson said.
Bear bile and gall bladders have been used in traditional Asian medicine to treat "heat-related" illnesses, such as liver and eye complaints, for thousands of years. The bears used to be killed in the wild, but in the past three decades, people have found ways to keep the bears alive and milk them regularly for their lucrative bile. VNS