Across Southeast Asia land grabbing has become an enormous issue. In Vietnam, a showdown is looming between animal rights activists and the government, which is planning to evict a wildlife sanctuary from a national park used to house bears rescued from illegal bile farms.
Practitioners of traditional Asian medicine claim bear bile is effective as an anti-inflammatory in the treatment of fever and can improve eyesight while healing an assortment of ailments. The practice is barbaric with the bile harvested through a catheter or a needle which is inserted into the bile duct of the bear held captive in small cages often for years at a time.
Hoping to end bile farming, Hong Kong-based Animals Asia initially constructed the sanctuary on six hectares of land in Vinh Phuc province in the Red River Delta region of northern Vietnam after reaching an agreement with the government more than four years ago.
As a result, Animals Asia invested more than U.S. $2 million in building and infrastructure while employing more than 77 local Vietnamese staff and importantly 104 bears have been given a home and creature comforts after spending up to 30 years in captivity.
But Animals Asia now says the terms of that deal have changed and accused Tam Do National Park director Do Dinh Tien of lobbying the Ministry of Defense to evict the sanctuary for personal reasons, construction of a hotel through a company with alleged business ties to his daughter.
It also says Tien had undertaken “an aggressive campaign” by deliberately spreading misinformation in an attempt to block construction of a third outdoor enclosure, claiming that waste pollution from the rescue center was damaging the environment and the health of the local community.
An application was lodged to have the sanctuary closed but relevant ministries rejected the request. Animals Asia says the all powerful Defense Ministry was then approached and the land reclassified as a zone of national security importance.
Animals Asia was then told the Defense Ministry had subsequently issued the order to evict the sanctuary.
Tien has denied the accusations, says he is simply a junior person and adds claims that he was behind the eviction were nonsensical because he did not have any relatives or friends working in senior positions at the Defense Ministry.
Nevertheless, the eviction order stands.
Animals Asia has enlisted celebrity support of British comedians and actors Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry who are sponsoring bears, narrating documentaries and are pushing their cause through social media networks.
It is believed that thousands of bears, including moon bears, Malayan sun bears and brown bears, are kept on bile farms in Vietnam where they are milked, despite the ban imposed by the Vietnamese government in 1992.
Under the law, people are still allowed to keep bears as pets or tourist attractions but owners often flout the ban with the practice still finding acceptance regardless of heavy fines.
In China, where bile farming is not illegal, Guizhentang Pharmaceutical, a firm that sells bile extracted from moon bears, was listed by the China Securities Regulatory Commission last year as a company seeking to make an initial public offering (IPO). The IPO was eventually withdrawn but only after animal rights activists highlighted the treatment by the company of 470 bears.
A final decision on the Vietnamese sanctuary now rests with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.