A Vietnamese congressman has sent a letter to the Ministry of Environment to warn South Korean tourists that buying bear bile in Vietnam is illegal and a punishable offence.
A moon bear is tied up before a bile extraction in a bear farm in northern Quang Ninh province.
Nguyen Dinh Xuan from the National Assembly’s Science, Technology and Environment Committee told Tuoi Tre that his letter also said some bear farms in Vietnam were managed by Koreans.
Xuan said he had not received a reply from South Korean authorities, but had heard that South Koreans involved in a transnational bile trading ring are wanted for questioning by police.
According to Xuan, research by the Education for Nature - Vietnam (EVN) said an estimated 1,500 South Koreans in 100 buses flooded into Vietnam’s bear farms between April and August last year.
Visitors to bear farms in the northern provinces of Quang Ninh, Phu Tho and Hanoi can witness the bile-extracting procedure and buy tiny jars of the fluid.
The price of bear bile ranges from VND20,000 to VND25,000 (US$1.11 – $1.40) to as much as VND200,000 ($11) for one cubic centimeter.
Some Asians – especially Chinese, Vietnamese and Koreans – believe bear bile has medicinal benefits that can treat ailments ranging from fevers to heart disease.
People also drink bear bile with a shot of rice wine, believing this cocktail can cure eye problems and liver complaints.
Records show bear bile has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 3,000 years.
Gau ngua, the moon bear or Asiatic black bear, can be kept on farms legally in Vietnam. However the extraction and sale of their meat and bile is illegal.