Nineteen moon bears already languishing in desperate conditions in Vietnam may have just received a death sentence.
The advocacy group Animals Asia says a new decision by the Vietnamese government nearly guarantees that the bears will perish in bear bile farms in Halong Bay, Vietnam, where they wait in "shocking" conditions. When Animals Asia conducted an investigation of the Halong Bay bear farms in December, it found 49 starving bears, some covered with open wounds and some with missing limbs.
Just a few months later, according to the group, only 19 of those bears now remain. The other 30 all presumably succumbed to starvation or illness. And because the Vietnamese government is delaying a final decision on the surviving bears' rescue for six months, all of the Halong Bay bears could die before they get the help they so desperately need.
"The bears don't have six months," Animals Asia CEO Jill Robinson says in a statement. "If they continue to die at their present rate there will be no decision left to take."
Considering what these bears go through on a daily basis, it's surprising they have survived this long. During the December investigation, Animals Asia found that 20 percent were emaciated, nearly 40 percent had broken teeth, 75 percent were wounded and all of them suffered footpad hyperkeratosis, or "dry cracked and painful paws from standing on bars."
Long considered "torture chambers," bile farms have been criticized by a number of organizations including the wildlife trafficking monitor group Traffic. Many animal advocates maintain farmers can keep the bears confined to stark cages for their entire lives, regularly - and excruciatingly - extracting bile from their gall bladders. Animals Asia describes the painful process in farms in Vietnam:
Bile is extracted directly from the bear's gall bladder by means of a temporary catheter and pump or a syringe. After the bear has been drugged with ketamine, its gall bladder is located (by means of an ultrasound or by repeated "blindpuncturing" attempts with a needle) and the bile is extracted using a catheter and pump or a syringe.
The bears' bile is used primarily for traditional medicine.
Animals Asia has been aggressively working to rescue the remaining 19 bears and care for them at its nearby sanctuary, a 30-acre swath of land that is being expanded to hold up to 200 bears. Currently, the sanctuary is home to 109 bears.