Rescue of Endangered Asiatic Black Bears Highlights Laos’ Uphill Fight Against Wildlife Trade

During the past several years, many rescued bears have been sent to the Free the Bears Fund center in Tat Kuangxi, a tourist region with scenic waterfalls about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Luang Prabang city.

Luang Prabang, Conservation, Free the Bears. Bears

In August, a British volunteer from the center told RFA that the center housed too many bears.

“It’s overcrowded [and] in need of either expansion or a new center,” he said.

To reduce overcrowding and control the population, the center’s management decided to sterilize the bears and requested permission from provincial officials to expand the center, said the volunteer, who declined to be named. At the time, Luang Prabang denied the request, but later agreed to let Free the Bears Fund build a center in a new location.

Sengaloune Vongxay, manager of the center’s Lao Bear Conservation Project, told RFA’s Lao Service in late March that the center sterilized only five of the facility’s 52 bears at first, but now is only separating the males from the female right after they reach reproduction age.

He also said that Free the Bears Fund is building a new center 17 kilometers (11 miles) from Luang Prabang city.

“This center will be larger — more than 26 hectares (64.2 acres),” he said, adding that the facility would be completed late this year or in early 2019.

The new center will be able to hold up to 150 rescued bears, according to Free the Bears Fund.

Despite the continued capture and poaching of Asiatic black bears in Laos, forest rangers believe there are still a significant number of wild bears in the country’s 24 national protected forests, though they do not know the exact number.

One ranger who declined to be named told RFA that more than 200 domesticated bears are currently held in captivity, with 52 in the Free The Bears Fund rescue center, 100 in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Bokeo province, 30 on a bear farm near the Lao capital Vientiane, and about 30 kept in various provinces by villagers who own them.

Thousands of Asiatic black bears have been held captive in bear bile facilities in Laos, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and Myanmar since the 1980s, according to a report issued in March 2017 by World Animal Protection, an international nonprofit animal welfare organization.

Today approximately 25,000 bears are held captive in the bear bile industry across Asia, it said.

Bear farming for bile or gallbladder extraction is legal in both South Korea and China, the report said. Though Vietnam banned bile extraction 13 years ago, more than 1,000 bears are still held captive there, where the illegal trade in bile and gallbladders continues.

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Source: Radio Free Asia

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