Elizabeth Oneita Davis, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Jenny Anne Glikman, Member: Human–Bear Conflicts Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Brian Crudge, Member: Sun Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Madelon Williamsen, TRAFFIC Vietnam (formerly)
Vinh Dang, TRAFFIC Vietnam
Tuan Bendixsen, Member: Asiatic Black Bear and Sun Bear Expert Teams, IUCN Bear Specialist Group

The bear conservation community recognizes the use of bear bile as a prevalent and persistent problem in Vietnam. New research has shown that use of farmed bear bile may be diminishing as bear farms are closed throughout Vietnam (Crudge et al. 2018), yet wild bear bile may still be popular. Research performed in the neighboring country of Laos showed that wild bear bile was significantly more sought-after than farmed, among both Lao PDR nationals and Chinese nationals (Davis et al. 2016). In Vietnam, Crudge at al. (2018) reported that owners of bear bile farms thought that consumers’ preference for wild bile drove the decline in farmed bile business.

Drury’s (2009) research in Vietnam, now nearly a decade old, showed that bear bile (and various derivatives thereof) was widely believed to be an effective medicine among the middle to upper-middle class individuals she surveyed in Hanoi. Vu (2010) also studied bear bile use in three major cities in Vietnam (Hanoi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City) and found results similar to Drury (2009), as well as spatial variation between regions. However, since this work, little research has been performed into consumer rationales and motivations for bear bile use in Vietnam, despite the changing landscape of bile farming (Crudge et al. 2018). Additionally, to our knowledge no research has been performed into other uses of bear parts (such as bear leather for handbags and wallets).

An Asiatic black bear rescued from the bear part trade peers through foliage at the Free the Bears rescue centre in Cambodia. Photo credit: Free the Bears

An Asiatic black bear rescued from the bear part trade peers through foliage at the Free the Bears rescue centre in Cambodia. Photo credit: Free the Bears

Two Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) used for bile farming in Vietnam look out from a small cage. Although farming bears for bile is technically illegal in Vietnam, and many farms have been phased out, the practice persists through exploitation of legal loopholes. Photo credit: Free the Bears

Two Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) used for bile farming in Vietnam look out from a small cage. Although farming bears for bile is technically illegal in Vietnam, and many farms have been phased out, the practice persists through exploitation of legal loopholes.
Photo credit: Free the Bears

In 2017, a research team comprised of members of San Diego Zoo Global, TRAFFIC Vietnam, and Animals Asia initiated a two-pronged approach aimed at improving understanding of bear parts use in Vietnam. The first prong of the study, led by TRAFFIC Vietnam, was conducted in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where 432 and 912 people were surveyed, respectively. These surveys were designed to broadly understand consumer intentions, the mechanics of use, the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of consumers, and the demographic groups using bear parts. Additionally, a series of qualitative, semi-structured interviews were conducted, to provide context to the patterns seen in the questionnaire data. The second phase, led by Animals Asia, was a self-administered, mail-in survey of registered traditional medicine practitioners (TMPs) throughout Vietnam. A sample of 800 surveys was achieved. This survey was intended to: discern whether bear bile is still considered effective by TMPs; understand what common ailments bear products are prescribed for; and identify which demographic groups bear products are typically prescribed for.

Together, the results of these two surveys will provide a more comprehensive picture of medical use of bear parts in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Preliminary results so far reveal a more complex, spatially-variable pattern of use than previously reported. Generally, it is hoped that the information collected from both consumers and influencers may help to overcome the barriers in effecting behavioral changes in use of bear bile. Understanding such barriers to implementation is vital for creating targeted, effective conservation marketing campaigns (Bennett et al. 2017, Veríssimo et al. 2018). This is particularly vital in conservation, where time and money are limited.

Although we are hopeful that our research will be a valuable addition to current knowledge about use of bear parts in Vietnam, there are still significant gaps. Whereas rural people comprise over half the Vietnamese population (Indexmundi.com 2018), this segment has not been sampled to the same extent as urban areas of Vietnam. The most recent study of this segment of the population was in 2011, and was focused primarily on the northern part of Vietnam (Vu 2012). As one of the largest consumer markets of illegal wildlife in the world, there is pressing need to more fully understand the motivations of all potential users in Vietnam.

Literature Cited

Bennett, N.J. et al., 2017. Conservation social science: Understanding and integrating human dimensions to improve conservation. Biological Conservation 205:93-108
Crudge, B., T. Nguyen, and T.T. Cao. 2018. The challenges and conservation implications of bear bile farming in Viet Nam. Oryx (in press).
Davis, E.O., D. O’Connor, B. Crudge, A. Carignan, J.A. Glikman, C. Browne-Nuñez, and M. Hunt. 2016. Understanding public perceptions and motivations around bear part use: A study in northern Laos of attitudes of Chinese tourists and Lao PDR nationals. Biological Conservation 203:282-289.
Drury, R., 2009. Reducing urban demand for wild animals in Vietnam: examining the potential of wildlife farming as a conservation tool. Conservation Letters 2:263-270.
Indexmundi.com. 2018. Vietnam – Rural population (% of total population). Accessed 24 May 2018 https://www.indexmundi.com/facts/vietnam/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS
Veríssimo, D., A. Bianchessi, A. Arrivillaga, F. C. Cadiz, R. Mancao, and K. Green. 2018. Does it work for biodiversity? Experiences and challenges in the evaluation of social marketing campaigns. Social Marketing Quarterly 24:18-34.
Vu, Q.T. 2010. Who consumes illegal wildlife?: an analysis of bear bile usage in Vietnam. PhD dissertation, University of Missouri, Columbia, USA.
Vu, Q. T. 2012. An analysis of attitudes and bear bile use in rural areas of Vietnam. Education for Nature – Vietnam (ENV), Hanoi.

Elizabeth Oneita Davis

Member: Human–Bear Conflicts Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Escondido, CA 92027, USA
Email: elizabeth.davis@bristol.ac.uk

Jenny Anne Glikman

Member: Human–Bear Conflicts Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Escondido, CA 92027, USA

Brian Crudge

Member: Sun Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Free the Bears
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Madelon Williamsen

TRAFFIC Vietnam (formerly)
Hanoi, Vietnam

Vinh Dang

TRAFFIC Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam

Tuan Bendixsen

Member: Asiatic Black Bear and Sun Bear Expert Teams, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Animals Asia
Vietnam

originally published in International Bear News 2018 Summer Vol. 27 No. 2 on pages 12-13