Loopholes and law violations cause huge growth in bear farms in Lao PDR

Livingstone, E., & Shepherd, C. R. (2016). Bear farms in Lao PDR expand illegally and fail to conserve wild bears. Oryx, 50(01), 176–184.

This study examines the growth and prevalence of bear farms in Lao PDR, and explores the blatant violation of laws that should protect bears from bile extraction, harvesting of bear parts and illegal trade. It also discusses the market value of commercial bile in comparison to wild bile values. 

The paper began by reviewing the negative impacts that bear trading has had on the Asian bear population. The demand for bear products for medical purposes from sun bear and black bear species has resulted in increased international trade to countries such as China, Thailand and Vietnam. This has caused wild bear populations to decline rapidly, resulting in both species being labelled as Vulnerable by the IUCN. The authors discussed the process of bile extraction and how commercial bile (extracted from captive bears) is increasing in popularity compared to that of the illegal, but traditional, wild bile which is extracted from hunted bears in the wild.

The authors examined government records and documents to determine the number of bears that resided in farms throughout Lao PDR. Through visiting five of these farms, they were able to evaluate whether these bears were previously wild, if there were any signs that they were being kept for breeding purposes and whether the facilities possessed the necessary government documents to keep these bears for commercial purposes in the first place.

Captive bears numbers have almost tripled

It was found that there were 122 captive bears in Lao PDR in 2012, almost triple the amount recorded in 2009. Nine of eleven known facilities were extracting bear bile for commercial purposes, but none appeared to be breeding bears. This suggests that bears were taken from the wild, or imported illegally from other countries.  If this is the case then commercial bear farms are in fact operating illegally, as legislation states bears must be second generation stock, not wild caught.

The study concluded by discussing the potential consequences of the bear bile industry, stating that as the industry continues to expand and sell bile at affordable prices, the demand will increase but there is a risk it may lead consumers to seek more “valuable” and traditional wild products. With the illegal capture, poaching and trade of bears and bear products having little chance of being punished, financial gain is a big incentive and will push hunting of wild bears to continue. Therefore, unless regulations and enforcement of legislation improves, the Asian bear populations will decrease further.   

World Animal Protection’s view

This study highlights the need for stricter monitoring and enforcement of laws which should protect bears from a lifetime of suffering in captivity for bear bile extraction and other products. We believe the bear bile industry causes intense, unjustified suffering to bears across Asia and we work with local organisations and governments to put an end to this completely unnecessary industry.