New country new challenges for our bear bile campaign

15 December 2017

Following our successes towards ending the inhumane use of bear bile in South Korea and Vietnam, we are starting work with local partners in Myanmar to stop the development of the trade and help protect the Asiatic black bear and the Sun bear from physical and psychological suffering.

Both species of bears live wild in the forests of Myanmar and are under threat across South East Asia because their bile is believed to cure different ailments in ‘traditional’ medicines. They experience incredible torture and cruelty in the bear bile industry, spending their lives trapped in tiny cages on painful bars, being regularly operated on or tapped for their bile that can lead to abscesses, infections and weeping sores, 

There are no estimates of how many bears live in Myanmar although it is believed that the population in the region has more than halved in the past 30 years. Our 2016 survey revealed that 120 bears were already being held on small farms and that the number of farmers keeping them is increasing.

The trade in bear bile and body parts in Myanmar is both internal to the country, consumed by the local population and external with products being sold to China and other countries. Both the hunting and farming of bears is illegal under the central government but the issue is that it is not illegal for the Shan and Wa provincial governments where most of the bears are farmed and enforcement of the central laws is weak.

However, the bear bile trade is not yet firmly entrenched within Myanmar as it was in South Korea and Vietnam, and still is in China. By starting to work with local partners now we will hopefully be able to stop the bear bile trade in its tracks and protect thousands of lives. 

In August 2017, our bear expert Karanvir Kukreja along with our campaign mobilisation specialist Elodie Guillon travelled to Myanmar to start work with Istituto OIKOS, an Italian NGO, running sun bear conservation projects. The aim of the project will be to improve awareness and change the attitudes of local communities to bears who currently see them as pests, which leads to them being poached and abused by the bear bile trade. This will happen through schools and workshops.

In order to ensure our work can really make a difference and stop the bear bile trade forever we need to put in place strong building blocks researching the right people to target and the best partners who can help achieve our goals. This takes careful investigation and time but we know that to protect every bear, we need to put a stop to the industry not just change the minds of local communities.

The first steps in this vital work is the funding of BANCA, The Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association of Myanmar who will help us to 1) understand the current legislation, policy and enforcement in relation to bear farms and hunting, 2) analyse stakeholders in Myanmar to identify key targets and partners to bring about an end to the industry, 3) Create a social media campaign to start public conversations. 

Our work in Myanmar is just starting and we know we have a long road ahead but we have the skills and experts to ensure an effective campaign. The next two years will focus on gaining traction in the country and insight into the complexities and cultural attitudes towards traditional medicines and animals so that with your support we will be ready for the challenges ahead.

If you would like to meet and help rescued bears in Romania next year then join our Volunteer with Bears trip and help maintain and improve this essential refuge for abused animals. Click here for more information

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