Endangered Moon Bears Harvested for Bile in Vietnam

Video by Brendan McCarthy. Text by Leanne Younes

Note: This story was first published on February 9, 2012, and it was updated on December 21, 2012 with new information

In a blistering tin shed on the outskirts of Hanoi, rows of caged Asiatic Black bears pant with thirst and gaze despairingly through the bars.

The bears have struggled to stay alive amidst horrific cruelty; perhaps hanging on to the hope they may be rescued from the constant onslaught of bile-extraction agony – a process where they are subdued, tied down and jabbed numerous times in the abdomen in a “hit-and-miss” attempt to locate the gall bladder and extract the bile.

But, even if the bears are rescued, the reality is there may be nowhere for them to go.

The state-of-the-art rescue centre at Tam Dao National Park, in northern Vietnam, has been served with an eviction notice, threatening the lives of 104 rescued bears and the livelihood of more than 75 staff.

The centre was purpose built and paid for by the Animals Asia Foundation but, after battling for more than a year against constant takeover attempts by the National Park director and his allies; the future looks increasingly uncertain.

Animals Asia’s infrastructure and development has created a tourism drawcard, making the area increasingly valuable. The land has been reportedly been pledged, if not re-leased to a property-development company.

Meanwhile the Asiatic black bears or Moon bears as they are known because of the distinctive, yellow crescent-shaped marking on their chests, are becoming increasingly scarce in the wild, with thousands still trapped on bear farms. The bears produce bile with high concentrations of Ursodeoxycholic Acid (UDCA) as a natural protection for their liver and to prevent gallstones and illnesses during the long hibernation.

The bile is reputed to cure everything from bruises to cancer, and is notably regarded and consumed as a libido-enhancing tonic and hangover cure throughout Asia. This makes the bears, and their bile, a valuable business commodity, and a target.

Bear-bile farming is illegal in Vietnam and the Moon bear is listed internationally as a critically-endangered species, but this has not halted or even slowed the rampant trade. The bile sells for exorbitant amounts and that means for many Vietnamese “farmers’, giving up the bears they have trapped from the wild, is not an option.

For Animals Asia Vietnam director Dr Tuan Bendixsen, the situation is untenable and his bid to save the bears has become his life work.

The “farmers’ we visited as part of this documentary have had these bears as “pets” for several years now. In 2007, when the Vietnamese Government first introduced bear-keeping regulations, those who had micro-chipped bears were allowed to keep them but had to abide by regulations that meant it was illegal to extract bile, sell it or any other bear product.

The ‘gate-keeping’ process around these regulations is not upheld and that leaves all stakeholders in limbo. Dr Bendixsen has been negotiating for years, appealing to have the bears surrendered.

Now there is a real risk that even if the farmers change their minds and hand them over, the bears will have nowhere to go. Instead these bears and thousands more, face the ongoing hell of cramped cages, starvation, torture and pain – the only life they have ever known.


Brendan McCarthy’s website.

  • Forrest Cortes

    Another example of how misinformed citizens cause harm to endangered species…All across the world we see species being decimated to make ‘traditional medicines’ which actually do nothing to improve health. Very unfortunate. Visit our blog to learn more about conservation issues and how to make a difference in the protection of biodiversity:


  • Alfred Dagel

    Interesting article. AAF’s activities here are commendable in their rescueing of bears, but organizations like the World Society for the Protection of Animals and their local partner, Education for Nature Vietnam are there on the front lines working to end bear farming, campaigning through TV, radio, and hundreds of events held since 2005 to influence attitudes and reduce bear bile consumption, working with authorities to have bears confiscated (and transferred to AAF’s center), and advocating stronger laws and policieis with government. True, I am a bit biased given my association, but it would have been nice for National Geographic to try to understand better about what they are writing about. It also would be nice to have them give some credit to Vietnamese people, working to end bear farming in Vietnam!

  • Marry Johansen

    Poor research, you should have talked to WSPA people, not AAF.

  • Nick Petten

    This is absolutely horrible. What can we do about it? Does anyone know of any effective petition websites, letter writing campaigns, etc.?

  • […] with despair through cage bars as they await the next onslaught of bile-extraction agony.Source:http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/02/09/moon-bears-bile-asiatic-black-bears/ Mar […]

  • Winston Shull

    The government should make this completely legal, and encourage it, so that these facilities are able to afford better living space for these bears. As long as there’s money to made, people will continue to do this, no matter what. So you may as well legalize it and regulate it so that the bears at least have comfortable living conditions.

  • Roni24

    @Nick Petten I don’t know if this is the correct link to sign the petition because a few of the petitions have closed. Hope it works for you.

  • […] 2. National Geographic […]

  • […] Bile farmed bears never get a chance to live with dignity much less a life of freedom.  Instead they exist in tiny cages, and if lucky get an opportunity to be rehabilitated at bear sanctuaries some of which are owned and managed by Animals Asia.  The prominent rescue organization, removes Asiatic black bears (AKA moon bears) raised amid atrocious conditions and gives them a chance at a better life under the supervision of doting caregivers.   These rehabbed bears, which were once persecuted in a most unspeakable way, are given a chance to live among conspecifics in sanctuaries for the rest of their days. […]

  • Genevieve Esson

    Can someone please help these poor bears! This is so degrading to such a noble and beautiful animal. I’m sure they can come up with a synthetic drug comparable to bear bile. They have with everything else. This is senseless and crude. Karma will get these assholes and I hope soon.

  • Mason

    We had the opportunity to visit the Chengdu rescue facility in the fall. AAF is doing admirable work. See their website at http://www.animalsasia.org and support their efforts.

  • alice cauley

    so much animal cruelty in the world.will it ever ever end.Only God can stop it all.i pray for these bears as well as all the other animals hurt maimed and abused.much much sadness involving such such things of this .

  • Jennifer Olsen

    How absolutely terrible!! Poor little moon bears 🙁

  • Lilly

    I totally agree with Genevieve Esson . I pray to God every day that these assholes asian (specially Vietnamese and Chinese) who consume bear bile will die a miserable gall bladder desease. Please help save those loveable moon bears.

  • Stuart Lennon

    I work for Animals Asia in Hong Kong as communications manager. In response to the comments from Alfred Dagel and Marry Johansen, we feel that this article accurately reflects Animals Asia’s work in Vietnam. Animals Asia’s staff have been working to end bear bile farming since 1993 in China and since 1999 in Vietnam. Since 2005 Animals Asia has built its bear rescue centre in Tam Dao National Park, rescuing over 100 bears, in addition to working with the traditional medicine community and coordinating public education programmes countrywide. There are nearly 80 local staff working under our Vietnam Director, Tuan Bendixsen, campaigning to change attitudes and reduce the exploitation of endangered moon bears. A recent example of this work saw the authorities at Ha Long Bay, one of the most popular travel destinations in Vietnam, work with us to launch an awareness-raising campaign targeting tourists that pay for bile extractions, making them aware of the consequences.

    Animals Asia also belongs to a bear “Taskforce” in Vietnam comprising ENV, WSPA, Free the Bears and Wildlife at Risk.

  • jakaya burgette

    i think this should be illeagal to kill animals it is not right i mean to wunder if your going to see your loved ones ever again is said would you like it if someone harmed your familly and freinds?

  • FArid

    They should make a law that anyone purchasing/distributing/etc animals like this should be automatically skinned a live (tortured in the most inhumane way) then burned to death and set examples.

  • […] Moon bears ‘Mara’ and ‘Angus’ – dual of a discovered bears during a Animals Asia refuge in North Vietnam – are giveaway to suffer their leisure a while longer, following a last-minute postpone (see a prior post on this sanctuary). […]

  • jeanette

    I am ashamed to call myself a humanbeing, its people that sit and watch tele and have dinner like us normal people and then go to work and torture these poor defensless beautiful bears, they are disgusting cruel and sick, this has to stop animals are here to live their lives like we do they are not here to be treated like this because they cant talk,IT HAS TO STOP.

  • Karmen Katz

    This is the worst of animal cruelty. I’m outraged that in 21st century this cruel practice still exists. This is beyond barbaric. I hope and pray to see the day when Chinese people will stop torturing moon bears, stop eating cats and dogs and stop with all the other animal abuse.

  • […] Endangered Moon Bears Harvested for Bile in Vietnam […]

  • […] National Geographic   […]

  • […] bears, even if I was still sad they have to live in a zoo for their own safety. They are trapped and their bile is extracted to use as a supposed medical cure for everything from hangovers to cancer. Once we […]

  • Priscilla Ruiz

    Today is January 9th 2016. This article was written In 2012. Today, while listening to NPR, I heard about these black bears and what is being done to them. I did some reading on what is being done to them as well and it saddened me. China,South Korea, Laos, and Vietnam are just some places that have them captive. They breed them and cage them into small cages where they cannot even sit up strait nor turn. They keep them until they are 10 yrs old and them kill them for their bile. The vet on NPR said she has visited these farms and has seen catheters coming out of their liver where the bile is being drained from them. She said they look miserable. I could go on and on about all the horrible things I’ve heard today about our Moon bears but why if I can’t do anything about it! This is uneceptable and something has to be done. 100 Black bears being rescued isn’t enough. We can do better than that.

  • vicki

    Even if these bears would be save and euthanized at least there torture would end. I am sorry I feel that way but anything is better than the “life” they exist in.

  • Laura

    God please help these BEARS this is a crime these people should all be Arrested and be put in A CAGE WITH 20 angry bears

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