The Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary, near Hanoi, rescues and rehabilitates moon bears, which are also known as the Asiatic Black Bear. For Animals Asia, their primary mission is to rescue these bears from bile farms and provide them with a safe environment. As Hoang Van Chien, the Bear Team Supervisor for Animals Asia, puts it, “We help them recover [so] they can enjoy their new lives within the rescue centre.”
Unfortunately, most of the bears they rescue aren’t suitable for release into the wild, for both mental and physical reasons – but those bears still play an important role in changing public perceptions. For many people in Vietnam, the only moon bears they ever see are kept in tiny cages, miserable and in poor health. They never see the personalities of the bears, which are curious, social and playful – and, just like many people, they love to nap.
The main issue for moon bears in Vietnam stems from traditional medicine. Bear bile has long been part of eastern medicine, believed to increase a man’s fertility, as well as acting as a hangover cure. While the ursodeoxycholic acid in bear bile does have some unrelated medicinal benefits, there are better herbal and synthetic alternatives. As for fertility and hangovers?
“That’s a myth,” says Tuan Bendixsen, the Vietnam Director for Animals Asia.
Unfortunately for moon bears and the team at Animals Asia, traditions are slow to change. But rather than just searching for the bears that are still held in captivity, the Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary is also working to challenge the demand for bear bile through public outreach.
“When they come here,” says Tuan Bendixsen, speaking about visitors to the centre, “and they see the bears playing, I think this is something that I hope will engender some kind of empathy for the bears and will hopefully encourage them not to use bear bile.”
The team of workers and volunteers at the Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary are giving the bears the chance to be their own best advocates. By providing a safe environment, these bears have a better chance to thrive. To support Animals Asia, check out their website or visit their sanctuary. Be sure to book a tour in advance, though, as they only bring in visitors twice a month, and space is limited.