Facts behind the non-confiscation of 80 illegal bears in Quang Ninh
80 illegal bears: In September 2007, the Forest Protection Department (FPD) and the Special Environmental Police found 80 moon bears on six bear farms in Ha Long Bay, Quang Ninh Province with no registration (no microchip) or any proof of origin. The Government of Vietnam manages bears on bear farms through a WPSA-instigated programme of microchipping to identify registered bears. The last allowable date for microchipping and registration of captive bears was 28 February 2005. Any bear found with no registration or microchip after 1 March 2005 is considered illegal and the owner is liable to prosecution. The aim of the microchipping programme is to stop the hunting of the few remaining bears in the wild to replenish the farms. Based on the governmentís commitment to phase out bear farming, Animals Asia Foundation signed an agreement with the FPD on 16 November 2005 to establish a bear sanctuary for 200 confiscated bears.
Regulation 47/2006/QD-BNN enacted on 6 June 2006 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) clearly states that any bears found without registration-microchip is considered illegal and must be confiscated (Article 2.4). Also, bear farmers are only allowed to keep bears and itís against the law to extract bile, trade in bear bile or any bear product. Any violation of the conditions in this Regulation is punishable under Article 190 of the Penal Code, Decree 32/2006/ND-CP, Decree 159/2007/ND-CP.
Government Action from September 2007 to March 2008:
FPD sent an official letter to MARD asking for approval to confiscate the 80 bears and to prosecute bear farmers.
MARD sent an official letter to the Prime Ministerís Office asking for a Directive.
The PMís office directed MARD to request opinions from three other ministries (Public Security, Finance, and Justice).
MARD submitted the official letter 568/BNN-KL dated 10 March 2008 to the PMís Office following receipt of three opinions from the three ministries. The official letter contains a new policy that deals with, not only the 80 illegal bears, but also other critically endangered wildlife found to be kept illegally.
The PMís office issued the official letter 478 dated 31 March 2008 agreeing to MARDís proposed new policy; the deputy PM signed the order.
MARDís new policy on dealing with illegal wildlife:
Non-confiscation of illegal wildlife found on farms1
Hand the wildlife back to the offender
Give out an administrative fine up to a maximum of 30 million Vietnam dong (US$1,875) per case, whether itís one or many animals.
Guide the offender to follow the local keeping regulation; if they canít, then confiscate. For illegal bears, the bear farmers have to comply with the new provincial keeping regulation based on Decree 82/2006 within a specified period and if they canít, then bears will be confiscated.
Decree 82/2006 was enacted in August 2006 to allow registration of endangered wildlife such as bears and tigers. However, since this Decree was promulgated, no farm has been able to register under the Decree because of its strict conditions.
1This new policy only affects bears found on farms and does not affect bears that are illegally moved from one farm to another as this is a criminal offence whereas illegal keeping is not a criminal offence in the criminal code.
Action by Animals Asia before MARDís new policy announcement: There was no discussion from MARD/FPD on the new policy prior to its submission to the PMís office. During that period, AAF had at least three official meetings with FPD and each time FPD indicated that the proposal to the PM contained law enforcement/confiscation.
Animals Asia and Education for Nature Ė Vietnam (ENV) carried out the following advocacy work to raise awareness of the plight of the 80 bears:
The National Assembly (NA): Prof Lan Dung, a well-known public figure in Vietnam and an NA delegate assisted the cause by sending an official letter to MARD, the PMís Office, and the NA asking them to confiscate the 80 bears and to resolve the situation quickly.
The Vietnam Wildlife Association and the Biology/Zoology Association were approached and they both wrote official letters to the PMís office calling for law enforcement and confiscation of the 80 bears.
The Hanoi Law University was consulted to provide legal guidance on wildlife protection laws.
International NGOs, such as WWF, TRAFFIC, IUCNÖ were approached, however, their mandate precluded them from making statements against the government.
Local media campaign conducted - Vietnam central TV (VTV1) ran a 4 mins segment on prime time news on the need to enforce the law and to confiscate the 80 bears.
AAF sent official letters to PM Office, MARD/FPD, Quang Ninh Provincial Govt, Quang Ninh FPD confirming that AAF has the facility and the funds to look after the 80 bears for a minimum of 20 years. Also, 2 letters from Neil Parish, Member of the European Parliament, was sent to the PM urging law enforcement and confiscation of the 80 bears.
Action by Animals Asia after the announcement of the new policy:
An official letter, individually addressed, was sent to each of the 500 NA delegates outlining the case and our concerns with MARDís process. Five NA delegates replied and said they would take up the case in the NA. One NA delegate actively called for intervention from the NA and asked the NA to question the Minister on why the 80 bears were not confiscated. Animals Asia also sent an official letter to the NA Committee for Science, Technology & Environment asking the committee to address the problem. FPD and the Minister of MARD were called before the Committee in a closed meeting. Both said at the time there was no facility to keep 80 bears and that they had no commitment from any organisation to help. The press ran a story soon after to show that MARD had received incorrect information and that 100 bears could be kept at Animals Asiaís facility.
Local media campaign, where top newspapers such the Labour ran two consecutive front-page stories condemning MARDís decision. VTV1 ran a 4-minute segment on prime-time news with a bear farmer in Quang Ninh extracting bear bile and showing contempt for the law. There were at least 20 written articles in the newspapers and 30 or more on the Internet.
The NGO Resource Centre, representing 161 international NGOs in Vietnam, was approached and the centre sent an official letter to the NA calling for the decision to be reviewed.
Continue trying to get MARDís new policy reversed or amended since this policy has severely violated the principle of Vietnamís socialist legal system because it has cancelled all wildlife laws and regulations promulated to manage and protect bears and other endangered wildlife from being hunted for farming. Animals Asia will work more closely with ENV, local media, and the NGO Resource Centre.
Start an international campaign to raise awareness that the new policy on illegal keeping of wildlife is detrimental to the remaining wildlife population in Vietnam since the best deterrent against taking and keeping of illegal wildlife is confiscation and not handing back wildlife to the offender. This campaign needs the involvement of high-profile celebrity/public figures.
Work closely with ENV to show that bear farms in Quang Ninh are continuing to break the law by illegally selling bear bile to international and local tourists.
Negotiate a new MOU with FPD on the commitment of the government to end bear farming and Animals Asiaís role in attaining that goal. Once the MOU is signed, a joint international press conference will be held in Hanoi to outline government and Animals Asiaís commitment to ending bear farming in Vietnam.