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A review of bear farming and bear trade in Lao People's Democratic Republic

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  • Saola Foundation for Annamite Mountains Conservation
  • Monitor Conservation Research Society

Abstract and Figures

This study reviews the bear farming industry in Lao PDR with the objective of documenting the current number of commercial bear facilities (i.e. captive bear facilities judged to be trading in bear bile and/or bears and bear parts) and the number of bears contained within these facilities, noting changes since it was last examined between 2000 and 2012 by Livingstone and Shepherd (2014). We surveyed all known commercial bear facilities and searched for previously unrecorded facilities. We compared our records with Livingstone and Shepherd (2014) and corrected some duplicate records from their study. In 2017, we recorded seven commercial facilities; four dedicated bear farms, and three tiger farms that were reportedly also keeping bears. We found that between 2012 and 2017 the recorded number of dedicated bear farms reduced by two, and the recorded number of tiger farms also keeping bears increased by one. Within the same period, the total number of captive bears among all facilities in Lao PDR hardly changed (+one), but the number of bears within each facility did. The northern facilities, owned by ethnic Chinese, have expanded since 2012, and central and southern facilities have downsized or closed. While bear farming appears to be downsizing in Lao PDR overall, efforts to phase it out are undermined by the expansion of foreign owned facilities in the north, within Special and Specific Economic Zones that largely cater to a Chinese market, and where the Lao government's efforts to enforce laws and protect wildlife appear to be lacking. Closing the facilities in the north will require political will and decisive law enforcement.
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Original Research Article
A review of bear farming and bear trade in Lao People's
Democratic Republic
E. Livingstone
a
, L. Gomez
a
,
*
, J. Bouhuys
a
,
b
a
TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Suite 12A-01, Level 12A Tower 1, Wisma Amrst, Jalan Stadium, SS7/15, 47301 Kelana Jaya, Selangor D.E.,
Malaysia
b
Apex Wildlife Trade Investigation, Grobbenhof 4, 6932 CL Westervoort, The Netherlands
article info
Article history:
Received 8 December 2017
Received in revised form 14 February 2018
Accepted 14 February 2018
Keywords:
Bear farms
Bear bile
Gall bladder
Urso-deoxycholic acid
Bear bile extraction facilities
Lao PDR
Ursus thibetanus
abstract
This study reviews the bear farming industry in Lao PDR with the objective of doc-
umenting the current number of commercial bear facilities (i.e. captive bear facilities
judged to be trading in bear bile and/or bears and bear parts) and the number of bears
contained within these facilities, noting changes since it was last examined between 2000
and 2012 by Livingstone and Shepherd (2014). We surveyed all known commercial bear
facilities and searched for previously unrecorded facilities. We compared our records with
Livingstone and Shepherd (2014) and corrected some duplicate records from their study. In
2017, we recorded seven commercial facilities; four dedicated bear farms, and three tiger
farms that were reportedly also keeping bears. We found that between 2012 and 2017 the
recorded number of dedicated bear farms reduced by two, and the recorded number of
tiger farms also keeping bears increased by one. Within the same period, the total number
of captive bears among all facilities in Lao PDR hardly changed (þone), but the number of
bears within each facility did. The northern facilities, owned by ethnic Chinese, have
expanded since 2012, and central and southern facilities have downsized or closed. While
bear farming appears to be downsizing in Lao PDR overall, efforts to phase it out are
undermined by the expansion of foreign owned facilities in the north, within Special and
Specic Economic Zones that largely cater to a Chinese market, and where the Lao gov-
ernment's efforts to enforce laws and protect wildlife appear to be lacking. Closing the
facilities in the north will require political will and decisive law enforcement.
©2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC
BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
1. Introduction
The practice of keeping bears captive for live bile extraction, commonly known as bear farming, has expanded
throughout Asia since the 1980's (Servheen et al., 1999). Bile, taken from the gallbladders of bears, has been used in Traditional
Medicine in East Asia for more than 1000 years as a treatment for a wide range of inammatory and degenerative ailments
(Feng et al., 2009;Li et al., 2016). Current trends indicate that the bear farming industry is shrinking in some countries and
increasing in others. Recent shifts in public attitudes and government policies, however, have cast uncertainty on the sus-
tainability of this industry. In South Korea, wherethe number of bears in captive facilities once surpassed 1000 (World Animal
Protection, 2017), the government has begun sterilizing all remaining captive bears on bile-extraction facilities (est. 660 bile
*Corresponding author.
E-mail address: lalita.gomez@trafc.org (L. Gomez).
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Global Ecology and Conservation
journal homepage: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/gecco
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2018.e00380
2351-9894/©2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
Global Ecology and Conservation 13 (2018) e00380
producing bears in 2017) in their efforts to phase out the industry (World Animal Protection, 2017; K. Kukreja, personal
Communication, 2017). Similarly in Vietnam, a government ban on live bile extraction from captive bears implemented in
2006 has since seen a decrease of over 70% in the numbers of captive bears, from 4000 to 1200 (Animals Asia, 2011;Crudge
et al., 2016;Willcox et al., 2016;ENV, 2017). However, Japan's bear parks, which reportedly trade in bear bile products, hold
more than 1000 bears, and may be expanding through breeding and from orphaned cubs (Foley et al., 2011;Mills and
Servheen, 1991;Togawa and Sakamoto, 2002). In China, the world's biggest producer and consumer of bear bile, there are
currently more than 20,000 bears in captivity (Jiwen and Shenzhen, 2016). Facilities in China peaked at around 400 and then
declined to less than 100 following a tightening of China's industry regulations in the 1990's, as many small-scale farms (<50
bears) consolidated into larger facilities (Animals Asia, 2011;Jiwen and Shenzhen, 2016). The available estimates from China,
Japan, South Korea and Vietnam amount to more than 23,000 captive bears in these countries combined.
The international bear bile industry is largely driven by demand from China, as well as Chinese international tourists and
ethnic Chinese communities in other countries, such as Australia, Europe, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand and
Singapore (Williamson, 2006;Burgess et al., 2014;Ling et al., 2015). Following a tightening of China's domestic regulations on
bear farming (Jiwen and Shenzhen, 2016), within the last two decades bear bile businesses have opened in neighbouring Lao
PDR and Myanmar, run by Chinese entrepreneurs who presumably moved across the border to remain close to their main
consumers while leveraging the benets of low government restrictions and weak law enforcement in these lower-income
countries (Livingstone and Shepherd, 2014;BANCA, 2017;Nijman et al., 2017). Bear bile trade also operates visibly within
several trading hotspots around China's borders, such as the Golden Triangle region (overlapping Myanmar, Lao PDR and
Thailand; Fig. 1). In these trading hotspots, the consumer base is largely Chinese tourists attracted by gambling, drugs,
prostitution and other trading activities that are illegal in China (Shepherd and Nijman, 2008;EIA, 2015;BANCA, 2017). The
captive bear bile industries in Lao PDR and Myanmar are still relatively small, compared with other bile producing countries,
with recent records indicating less than 200 captive bears in each country (BANCA, 2017;Livingstone and Shepherd, 2014).
Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) are protected globally as Appendix I Species under the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES; Garshelis and Steinmetz, 2016), and are classed as Vulnerable
Fig. 1. Locations of recorded bear farms (including facilities found to be closed during our survey), tiger farms and private bear collections in Lao PDR. Excludes
bears held within a rescue centre in Louangphabang and in Vientiane Zoo. We searched for facilities in 17 out of 18 Provinces, all except Xaisomboun. Provinces
with Special and/or Specic Economic Zones are shaded in grey. Towns and zones within the Golden Triangle region that are mentioned in our report are
indicated topleft and within the dashed triangle; this region is a bear bile trading hotspot, catering to Chinese international tourists pursing activities that are
illegal in China (e.g. drugs, gambling, prostitution, endangered wildlife trade).
E. Livingstone et al. / Global Ecology and Conservation 13 (2018) e003802
on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species. Asiatic black bears are protected in Lao PDR under the Wildlife and Aquatic Law,
2007, which states that all hunting, catching and possession of bears is prohibited, as is removal and/or possession of car-
casses, parts and organs. Experts estimate that the global population of Asiatic black bears has declined by more than 30% in
the last 30 years, with declines attributed mainly to over-hunting and habitat loss (Garshelis and Steinmetz, 2016). Some of
the highest declines have been in countries with a history of bear farming. For instance, wild bear populations in South Korea
have been extirpated bar a small number of reintroduced bears (Jeong et al., 2011), and severely depleted in Vietnam (Crudge
et al., 2016;Garshelis and Steinmetz, 2016). In 2012, bear farming came under international scrutiny when the World
Conservation Union (IUCN) passed Resolution, WCC-2012-Rec-139-EN, to phase out the industry in most bile producing
countries, and to launch an investigation into its impact on wild bear populations in China (IUCN, 2016,2012).
In recent years, Lao PDR has experienced negative international publicity over its illegal wildlife trade (EIA, 2015;Gomez
et al., 2016;Krishnasamy et al., 2016;Nijman and Shepherd, 2012a). Lao PDR's poor border controls, and its geographic
placement between Cambodia, China, Myanmar,Thailand and Vietnam, make it a strategic cross-border trading hub between
these countries (Nooren and Claridge, 2001;Nijman and Shepherd, 2012a;Obank et al., 2015;Gomez et al., 2016;
Krishnasamy et al., 2016). Organised crime groups use Lao PDR to smuggle wildlife into other Asian countries, due to lack of
enforcement capacity and loopholes in national laws that regulate trade (CITES Secretariat, 2016). The CITES Secretariat is
putting pressure on Lao PDR to adopt adequate domestic legislation that allows for the implementation of CITES, to imple-
ment law enforcement, and to monitor and regulate wildlife farming (CITES, 2017). To improve standing with CITES, the Lao
Government apparently plans to reduce some of the more contentious operations, including bear and tiger farming (Prime
Ministers Ofce, 2016;WCS, 2016; M. Brocklehurst, personal communication, 2017).
In 2012, Livingstone and Shepherd (2014) assessed the bear bile industry in Lao PDR and reviewed the legal requirements
for keeping captive bears. Bear farms were rst recorded in Lao PDR in the year 2000, and by 2012, there were 11 recorded
facilities holding 122 bears, with a 21% annual increase in bear numbers during that period. Bear facilities were located
throughout the country; in the north bordering China and Myanmar, in the centre (in Louangphabang and Vientiane) and in
the south (Pakxan, Bolikhamxai and Pakxe, Champasak; Livingstone and Shepherd, 2014). These facilities were concentrated
within or close to (i.e. in the same city) four Special or Specic Economic Zones, in Bokeo, Luang Namtha, Vientiane and
Savannakhet. Lao PDR's Special and Specic Economic Zones offer a wide range of incentives for businesses, including re-
ductions on import taxes, and lower taxes on foreign corporate prots compared with domestic enterprises (Gunawardana
and Sisombat, 2009). Lao's Wildlife and Aquatic Law (2007), which applies to all individuals and organizations, permits trade
in bear bile, providing that commercial bear farms, or bears kept for household purposes, are registered with the Prime
Minister's ofce and monitored by the Department of Forest Resource Management within the Ministry of Natural Resources
and Environment (Article 62; Wildlife and Aquatic Law, 2007). Additionally, the law permits trade only from second gen-
eration (F2) stock and therefore, in Lao PDR, bear farms cannotoperate legally if the bears are of direct wild origin. Livingstone
and Shepherd (2014) found that while some facilities were government registered, all facilities in Lao PDR were operating
illegally by violating national and international laws (mainly by trading from F1 stock, and by transporting bears interna-
tionally). They also found the number of captive facilities and captive-held bears to be slowly expanding, and concluded that,
given the continuing demand for and high value of wild bear products, bear farming was not beneting the conservation of
wild bears.
The objectives of our study were to 1) review the status of the commercial bear industry in Lao PDR by counting the
current number and size of bear farms and other wildlife facilities that keep bears (i.e. tiger farms), and documenting available
information on the nature of bear trade at each facility, 2) examine patterns in the growth of the industry in Lao PDR since
2012 by combining our records with those from Livingstone and Shepherd (2014), and 3) document evidence of illegal trade
in wild bears and bear parts, including market values of traded products and private collections of wild bears.
2. Materials and methods
During FebruaryeMarch 2017 we visited provinces and main towns in Lao PDR known to have bear farms (based on past
records), or known for cross-border wildlife trade with China and Vietnam, including Lao PDR's Special and Specic Economic
Zones (Fig. 1). Based on these criteria, we searched in all provinces except Vientiane Province (apart from one facility we
visited on the outskirts of Vientiane City) and Xaisomboun Province. We replicated the methods of Livingstone and Shepherd
(2014), visiting facilities reported in their study, and searching for new unrecorded facilities by making inquiries at major
transport and trading hubs (bus stations, markets, traditional medicine outlets, restaurants, tourist agencies and hotels). We
use the term commercial facilityto mean a facility trading in or assumed to be trading in bears and/or bear parts. In this
study, commercial facilities fall into two main categories, 1) dedicated bear farms, which extract and sell bile from live bears,
2) facilities holding bears with some link to wild animal trade (e.g. wild meat trade, tiger farms). We also recorded private
collections of bears (usually 1e2 bears kept as pets), which are treated separately to commercial facilities. We summarized
our records and observations to generate an estimated number of captive bears held in each commercial facility in Lao PDR in
2017. We combined our data with records collected by Livingstone and Shepherd (2014) to identify trends in bear numbers
within individual facilities over time.
At each facility we recorded the GPS location, number of bears, captive conditions (taking photographs and video when
possible) and elicited information from staff and owners, where possible, on the origin (including whether bears were being
bred in captivity), purpose, market value, and bear turnover rates. We also searched for evidence of captive breeding by
E. Livingstone et al. / Global Ecology and Conservation 13 (2018) e00380 3
evaluating each facility's potential to breed bears (i.e. bear group composition [single/pair/group], enclosure size). We
recorded evidence of bears being wild caught, such as missing limbs (presumed to be snare injuries). We identied facilities as
extracting bear bile when the price of products were openly displayed and by asking staff. We also sought current local
knowledge from the Lao PDR Government provincial representatives and local NGOs, including the Wildlife Conservation
Society in Vientiane, Free the Bears (FTB) in Louangphabang, and Provincial representatives of Government of Lao PDR
Department of Agriculture and Forestry in the provinces of Bolikhamxai, Xiengkhuang and Sekong.
3. Results
3.1. Number of farms and bears
We recorded seven commercial facilities in Lao PDR holdingat least 116 Asiatic black bears. Of these, three were bear farms
(i.e. bear bile extraction was taking place), respectively located in Savannakhet, Vientiane and Luang Namtha Provinces; one
was a zoonamed the Don Savannh Zoo, located in Bokeo, which held mostly bears (and tigers) that are reportedly being
consumed within the local restaurant trade; and three were tiger farms, located in southern Lao PDR, that reportedly also held
bears. We documented the closure of two southern bear facilities - one in Pakxan, Bolikhamxai (reportedly closed four to ve
years ago) and one in Pakxe, Champasak (reportedly closed ve to seven years ago). We found no commercial facilities in
Saravane, Attapeu, Phongsaly, Oudomxay, Xiengkhuang, Xayabury, Huaphanh and Xekong Provinces (Fig. 1).
Aside from these seven facilities, we also documented one new facility in Louangphabang, known to Free the Bears (FTB)
since October 2016, which held 11 Asiatic black bears, one sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), and one tiger cub. This facility is
reportedly owned by a Chinese national and managed by the Treasure Group Laos (L. Nicholson personal communication,
2017). However, this was not included in our dataset as the facility was not accessible and we were therefore unable to verify
whether it was a private or commercial facility. There are reports that it may be opening as a tourist attraction in future.
Of the seven facilities visited, only four were visually inspected - Vientiane, Savannakhet, Luang Namtha and Bokeo, as
access to the three tiger farms was denied. Our observations and records on all facilities are summarized in Table 1. The
facilities in Vientiane and Savannakhet were extracting and selling bile from 19 and 8 bears respectively and kept only adult
bears. A neighbour to the Vientiane facility claimed that the bears were exchanged with a facility in Louangphabang every six
months, but we could not verify this. We recorded 29 bears at the Don Savannh Zoo, in Bokeo Province's Golden Triangle
Special Economic Zone but found no evidence of bear bile extraction, rather the animals (bear and tigers) were reportedly
used for meat consumption. Past studies corroborate this report, with bear paws recorded on the menu at restaurants within
the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (Livingstone and Shepherd, 2014;EIA, 2015). This facility had mostly adult bears
(two adolescents ~1e2 years old) and staff told us the bears were from Myanmar.
In Boten (Luang Namtha Province), Xinglong bear farm, we estimated there to be 60 bears, with a mixture of adults and
cubs of unknown origin. According to locals, this facility was trading in bear bile and was moving bears internationally be-
tween China and Vietnam by transporting them across the border in boxes. We observed nearby construction around this
facility with locals reporting of a planned expansion of the area into a multi-species zoo. This facility is reportedly owned by a
Chinese family from Quanzhou, Fujian, China, who also own a facility in Mong La, Myanmar (the Burma East Shan Special
Region 4 Xinglong Live Bear Bile Extraction Research Centre; D. Banks, personal communication, 2016). Bear bile products
with the Xinglong logo have also been observed for sale in a couple of Chinese groceries in the Golden Triangle SEZ in Bokeo,
in the towns/cities of Boten, Muang Sing, Louangphabang and Luang Namtha (C.R.Cruz, Personal Communication 2016).
While we could not gain access to the three tiger farms, locals informed us of one or two Asiatic black bears being held i.e.
1) Ban (Village) Phabat (one bear), 2) Ban Somsaart (one bear) - both located in the district of Thaphabat, Bolikhamxai
Province and 3) Muang Thong Tiger Farm, located in Ban Nongboua-Noi, Khammouane Province (two bears). The Ban Phabat
and Ban Somsaart tiger farms were both owned by the Souvanasaek Trading Co. and we are not sure if reports meant there
was a bear in each facility, or only one bear between the two facilities. It is unknown if any are extracting bile from bears.
3.2. Trends in bear numbers since 2012
We discovered likely errors in records from Livingstone and Shepherd (2014) and corrected these before examining trends
in bear numbers since 2012. Three previously recorded facilities which were based on government records but which could
not be validated by Livingstone and Shepherd (2014) were not found i.e. Ban Phonsaat and Ban Nongboua-noi in Hinbone
District, Kammouan Province and Xaysavang in Paksong District, Bolikhamxai Province. Both the Ban Phonsaat and Ban
Nongboua-noi facilities were reportedly located within a short distance of the Muang Thong Tiger Farm (Table 1). Based on a
thorough search of the area and discussions with locals we concluded these records were likely duplicates and refer to the
Muang Thong Tiger Farm. The Xaysavang facility in Paksong is presumed to be a misprint as there is no Paksong in Boli-
khamxai; Paksong is a municipality in the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Lao PDR. Instead, we believe this record refers to the
Souvanasaek Tiger Farm in Thaphabat, in Pakxan, Bolikhamxai. Accounting for these corrections, this put the number of
captive bear facilities in 2012at eight (instead of 11), the number of bears at 115 (instead of 122), and the annual increase in
bear numbers between 2008 and 2012 at 18.7% (instead of 22%).
Accordingly, since 2012 the number of recorded commercial facilities in Lao PDR decreased by one - with two bear farms
closing and the discovery of one more Tiger farm (it is unknown if this was operating in 2012 or if it opened since then). Since
E. Livingstone et al. / Global Ecology and Conservation 13 (2018) e003804
2012, the total number of captive bears on commercial facilities in Lao PDR overall increased by one but these numbers
uctuated widely within the individual facilities. Bear numbers in the Savannakhet and the Vientiane bear farms have
dropped since 2012, while in the Boten facility and Don Savannh Zoo, bear numbers tripled (Fig. 2). The rate of increase in
captive bears on commercial facilities between 2000 and 2017 is 15.2% per annum; a 3.5% decline since 2012.
3.3. Illegal trade in bears and bear parts
We found no change in compliance with national and international legislation since facilities were surveyed in 2012 and
all commercial bear facilities were judged to be operating illegally by trading in wild caught bears. No facility appeared
capable of breeding bears, with bears housed in individual enclosures in all but the Don Savannh Zoo, which had three to four
bears per enclosure. Additionally, the Boten facility was reportedly transporting bears internationally between China and
Vietnam in violation of CITES.
We found 12 cases of one totwo Asiatic black bears, mostly cubs (amounting to 14 animals) held by private owners. While
some claimed these as pets, most of them intended the animals for trade. All bears were reportedly wild caught, and in ve
cases, owners told us they had a turnover of cubs. Owners quoted prices that they had bought bears for, and prices for which
they were willing to sell. Cubs sold in pairs ranged from $970e$1940, (Mean ¼$1,600, SD ¼231) and single cubs sold for
between $360 and $970 (Mean ¼$750, SD ¼289). Adult live bears ranged from $2000 - $2900 (Mean ¼$2450, SD ¼636).
Two of the adult bears recorded in this instance were reportedly purchased from the Savannakhet farm. Most prices represent
current values in 2016e2017. Values were converted from Lao Kip (LAK) or Thai Bhat (THB) into US$ at the current exchange
rate of 1$ ¼8199 LAK and 34.35 THB (www.xe.com, accessed 01 April 2017).
4. Discussion
The absolute number of recorded captive bears on commercial facilities in Lao PDR hardlychanged between 2012 and 2017
(þone bear; not including 12 bears in a waterpark in Louangphabang), and the number of recorded commercial facilities
declined by one. There appears to be a south to north trend in captive bear numbers, with southern facilities either closing or
reducing in size, and the northern facilities near the Chinese border expanding. Although the number of commercial bear
facilities in Lao PDR has declined, the number of captive bears looks set to rise if the two northern Chinese owned facilities
continue their rate of expansion; both have roughly tripled in size between 2012 and 2017. For the facilities that have
downsized, we found no information on where most of the bears have gone, apart from two bears residing in the Thai owned
Savan Mixay Park, Savannakhet, which the owners reportedly bought from the Savannakhet farm. Fluctuation of bear
Table 1
Commercial bear facilities that we visited in Lao PDR during FebruaryeMarch 2017, with the number of Asiatic adult black bears (Ursus thibetanus) and cubs
(<1 year old) seen evidence of any snare injuries, price of bile sold directly to customers, nationality of owners and any comments.
Town (Province) Type Trend
since
2012
No. Of
bears
Cubs Injuries Value (USD) Owners Other comments
Boten (Luang Namtha) Bear bile
extraction
[(þ~38) ~60 Unknown Unknown $1500 for
two cubs
Chinese Mix of adults and young. Bears sold to
China and Vietnam. Construction
underway, with plans to develop
surrounding area into a multi-species
zoo.
Don Savannh Casino
Zoo(Bokeo)
Mixed bear
and tiger
[(þ21) 29 0 None
a
Unknown Chinese (with
Burmese staff)
Bears reportedly from Myanmar.
Reports that bears sold for meat to
casino customers.
Savannakhet
(Savannakhet)
Bear bile
extraction
Y(3) 8 0 2 with
missing
limbs
b
150,000kip/
cc
Vietnamese Thai, Vietnamese and local customers.
Bears from the north of Lao PDR.
Vientiane (Vientiane) Bear bile
extraction
Y(4) 19 0 1 with
missing
limb
b
150,000kip/
cc
Vietnamese Staff member claims bears are
exchanged every six months with a
farm in Louangpahbang
c
Ban Phabhat,
Thaphabat
(Bolikhamxai)
Tiger farm Unknown 1 0 Unknown Unknown Reportedly
Vietnamese
Vannaseng tiger farm; owned by
Vannaseng Trading Co, Ltd. Reported
that there used to be 4 bears
Ban Somsaart,
Thaphabat
(Bolikhamxai)
Tiger farm Y(14) 1 0 Unknown Unknown Reportedly
Vietnamese
Sookvanneseng tiger farm; also owned
by Vannaseng Trading Co, Ltd.
Ban Nongboua-Noi,
(Khammouane)
Tiger farm Y(-~2) 2 0 Unknown Unknown Unknown Muang Thong Tiger Farm; >100 tigers
and reported they want to turn the
facility into a zoo.
a
A cub observed in 2012 with a missing limb was not there.
b
Same number of bears with missing limbs that were observed in 2012; assumed to be the same bears.
c
We found no evidence to support this report.
E. Livingstone et al. / Global Ecology and Conservation 13 (2018) e00380 5
numbers within these facilities could be due to mortality, transfer between facilities and new cubs entering facilities.
Livingstone and Shepherd (2014) recorded evidence of trading in wild products at several facilities and it is possible (but
unveried during our study) that facilities could be selling their bears off as parts; in Vietnam, there have been recent seizures
of frozen bear paws and observations of bear parts for sale in markets that reportedly originated from Lao PDR (Thanh Nien
News, 2016;Willcox et al., 2016). Closures and downsizing of bear numbers in the south may be attributed to a lower demand
for bile from captive bears (less prot) or, considering that these facilities are owned by a Vietnamese family, it could be linked
to the waning demand in Vietnam as the industry there is being phased out. Alternatively, it could simply be down to a change
in personal circumstances of the owners. The trade in bear cubs in Lao PDR appears to be ongoing, evident by the uctuation
in number of bears on farms that don't breed bears (i.e. assumed due in part to new bear cubs entering farms from the wild),
and the number of young bears we found being traded within private collections.
4.1. The future of the bear bile industry
At the time of writing, the Vietnamese owners of the Vientiane and Savannakhet facilities were seeking government
assistance to close their facilities and to relocate all the bears to bear rescue centres (M. Brocklehurst, personal communi-
cation, 2016). This apparent move to phase out bear farming is in line with the IUCN's Resolution, WCC-2012-Rec-139-EN,
which calls for closure of illegal bear bile extraction facilities in Lao PDR, South Korea and Vietnam (IUCN, 2012). South Korea
and Vietnam, the two largest bear farming countries after China, are already in a phase-out period. In Vietnam, public
consumption of bear bile dropped by 61% between 2010 and 2015, attributed to the success of public awareness campaigns to
discourage bear bile consumption (ENV, 2015) and the creation of bear rescue centres throughout the country which sup-
ported government-led enforcement on the ban in trading or advertising of bear bile. There was also an apparent decline in
the availability of bear bile products in Traditional Medicine outlets in Vietnam within a similar period (Willcox et al., 2016).
However, Willcox et al. (2016) also found that trade in wild-origin products and parts in Vietnam remains lucrative and that
bear farms are likely to play a role in the laundering of wild caught bears.
The global decline in public, political and scientic support for bear farming may be linked to several factors, including
wide spread public awareness and education campaigns led by several animal welfare organizations (i.e. Animals Asia
Foundation, Free the Bears, World Animal Protection), and growing awareness of the decline in wild bear populations
throughout Asia. Davis et al. (2016) surveyed >1200 Lao nationals and Chinese tourists in Lao PDR and most respondents of
each group did not like bear farming, and felt that harvesting bear bile from wild bears would result in wild population
declines. Within China, the largest producer and consumer of bear bile, there is an increasingly negative public perception,
and some internal push to consolidate and potentially down size farms (Jiwen and Shenzhen, 2016). As a signal of this change,
in 2014, KaiBao Pharmaceuticals, China, the largest bear bile retailer, began pursuing research and development of synthetic
alternatives, using biotransformation technologywith poultry bile (Hance, 2015).
The Lao PDR Government has reportedly expressed interest in ending bear farming in the country. They plan to audit all
commercial bear facilities and to close at least one of the Chinese-owned northern bile extraction facilities, in Boten, Luang
Namtha, pending a suitable place to rehome the bears (M. Brocklehurst, personal communication, 2016). However, efforts to
Fig. 2. North to south trends in number of bears on 7 recorded commercial bear facilities between 20 08 and 2017 in Lao PDR. Records were collected from
published and unpublished literature and government documents collected by Livingstone and Shepherd (2014). New records were added from Don Savannh Zoo
in 2014 (D. Banks, personal communication, 2016) and 2016 (BANCA, 2017), and for Boten in 2016 (C. R. Cruz, personal communication, 2016). Dashed lines are
commercial bear facilities that have increased in number since 2012, solid black lines are facilities that have reduced numbers, and grey lines are facilities that are
now closed. Values were averaged between years when no records were available (Boten: 2013, 2014, 2015; Vientiane: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016; Savannaket, 2013,
2014, 2015, 2016). Reports suggest that Pakxan and Pakxe facilities closed around 2013 (real dates may be plus or minus a year). The legend is ordered
geographically, north to south from top to bottom. There are four known commercial bear facilities in Lao PDR as of April 2017.
E. Livingstone et al. / Global Ecology and Conservation 13 (2018) e003806
phase out bear farming are being undermined by expansion of commercial bear facilities in the north, particularly within the
special economic regions that are heavily inuenced by Chinese investments (e.g. business are run by Chinese nationals,
prices are given in Chinese Yuan, staff employed are ethnic Chinese, places like Boten are on Beijing time, and mobile phones
are on Chinese networks), and where the Lao PDR government appears reluctant to enforce wildlife (and other) laws and to
protect wildlife.
4.2. Chinese inuence in the bear bile the industry in Lao PDR
Our ndings suggest that Chinese business ventures and tourism may be propping up the bear bile industry in Lao PDR,
although there is not much support for it locally or internationally. Much of the growth in the commercial bear industry since
2000, in both Lao PDR and Myanmar, appears to be down to the efforts of two rich and inuential Chinese businesses. Boten's
commercial bear facility, the largest facility in Lao PDR, is reportedly owned by Chinese family with ties to a bear farm inMong
La, Myanmar (D. Banks, personal communication, 2016). In 2016, a TRAFFIC survey of the availability of bear parts and de-
rivatives in Lao PDR found that most wildlife products for sale in Boten contained bear parts or products e.g. bear bile in liquid
and powder form, bear wine, bear fat/grease, gall bladder and bear teeth (Gomez and Shepherd, in prep.). The second largest
facility in Lao PDR, which also keeps Tigers Panthera tigris, is controlled by a group based in Hong Kong, and according to
BANCA (2017), the owner allegedly has links to anti-government forces in Myanmar. This heavy inuence by the Chinese
markethas also been seen to drive the demand for other illicit wildlife products traded within the country, including
pangolin scales and meat, Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax vigil casques, elephant ivory, and rhino horn (EIA, 2015;Gomez et al.,
2016;Krishnasamy et al., 2016;Nijman and Shepherd, 2012a). Notably, the 2012 IUCN recommendation to phase out bear
farming did not extend to China, with the Chinese State Forestry Administration (SFA) opting instead to halt expansion of the
industry, and conduct a formal investigation intothe impact of bear farming on wild bear populations, a study that iscurrently
ongoing with results expected in 2020 (IUCN, 2012,2016).
Wildlife farms (bears, tigers) are concentrated in and near Special and Specic Economic Zones, presumably to leverage
benets from government trading incentives and to access trading hotspots (MoPI, 2017). The southern Savannakhet bear
facility is located close to the Savan eSeno Special Economic Zone within Southeast Asia's East-West Economic Corridor, and
the Bokeo and Luang Namtha facilities are located within the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone and the Boten Specic
Economic Zone respectively, both within Asia's North-South Economic corridor that runs from Kunming, China to Bangkok,
Thailand (Tan, 2012). In the Vietnamese dominated East-West Economic Corridor, tiger farming seems to be more prevalent,
which may reect current Vietnamese consumer preferences. Staff at the Savannakhet facility reported that their consumers
are largely Lao, Thai and Vietnamese. Chinese consumers represent the greatest demand for bear bile globally, and Chinese
foreign investment and tourism is more prevalent in the north (near the Lao PDR-China border regions), which may explain
why the northern facilities appear to be doing better than the southern facilities. Boten and Golden Triangle have long-term
concessions to Chinese Investors (Tan, 2012). Botenwas initially leased by a Hong Kong based company for 30 years, and after
receiving a lot of bad publicity concerning gambling and other criminal activities, many companies pulled out of the region
around 2010 (EIA, 2015;Ganjanakhundee, 2013;Gluckman, 2011). It has since been taken over by a Yunnan based company
(Nyíri, 2012). Both Economic Zones appear to be thriving, with lots of new infrastructure development observed during our
survey.
5. Conclusions
The domestic bear bile industry in Lao PDR is downsizing, and closures of commercial bear facilities in the south of Lao PDR
may be partially indicative of poor economic returns of farming. The future of bear farming in Lao PDR may lie within Chinese
tourist trade hotspots along the Chinese border in the north, within Special and Specic Economic Zones. The north-south
trend we observed may be due to geographic differences in international business investments, with Vietnamese traders
exerting a heavier inuence in the south, where trade in other wildlife, such as tigers, is more lucrative than trade in bears.
The expansion of the northern commercial bear facilities may also continue as part of the Lao PDR government's plan to
encourage development under the auspices of the Special and Specic Economic Zones in the country. The remaining
southern facilities have not signicantly changed in numbers since 2012 (downsized slightly), and those that have closed
within the last decade have presumably done so as they are not economically viable. Campaigning efforts by NGOs working to
protect bears from illegal trade in Lao PDR may be succeeding in changing public attitudes, as Lao citizens appear to be
cognisant of bear welfare and conservation needs (Davis et al., 2016). NGO campaigns, however, will have little impact on a
transient Chinese tourist population that fuels trade in the northern border regions, especially those areas that have
established reputations as regional wildlife trade hubs. Closing the facilities in the north will require political will and decisive
law enforcement. This is complicated by the unclear application of domestic laws within Special and Specic Economic Zones,
the length of leases granted to Chinese businesses, and the large income these Economic Zones contribute to the Lao PDR
government.
To strengthen law enforcement efforts related to the bear bile trade in Lao PDR, we urge the Lao government to follow
steps recommended by the CITES Secretariat, including amending national legislation to meet the minimum criteria
necessary to implement CITES, and by developing and implementing legislative guidelines for farming bears and other en-
dangered wildlife (CITES, 2017). Law enforcement agencies should increase surveillance and monitoring of domestic and
E. Livingstone et al. / Global Ecology and Conservation 13 (2018) e00380 7
international wildlife trade, and of trade in hotspots (i.e. Special and Specic Economic Zone) and all establishments that sell
wildlife illegally should be closed. Individuals and organizations found to be acting illegally should be prosecuted to the full
extent of the law. To foster positive public attitudes towards the conservation of wild bears and against consumption of illegal
wildlife products, NGO's should continue awareness raising campaigns and consumer education, and monitor the impact of
those campaigns on consumer behaviour. Additionally, we recommend campaigns that are targeted at local communities
who hunt and trade bears, to educate those living near to bears on the illegality of the trade and of the conservation
importance of protecting them.
Acknowledgements
This work was supported by World Animal Protection. We thank Chris R. Shepherd, Kanitha Krishnasamy, Elizabeth John,
Free the Bears and Michael Brocklehurst for their valuable input and comments on an earlier draft.
Appendix A. Supplementary data
Supplementary data related to this article can be found at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2018.e00380.
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Technical Report
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Bear bile has been a well-known Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Because of the endangered species protection, the concept on substitutes for bear bile was proposed decades ago. Based on their chemical composition and pharmacologic actions, artificial bear bile, bile from other animals, synthetic compounds, and medicinal plants may be the promising candidates to replace bear bile for the similar therapeutic purpose. Accumulating research evidence has indicated that these potential substitutes for bear bile have displayed the same therapeutic effects as bear bile. However, stopping the use of bear bile is a challenging task. In this review, we extensively searched PubMed and CNKI for literatures, focusing on comparative studies between bear bile and its substitutes for the treatment of liver diseases. Recent research progress in potential substitutes for bear bile in the last decade is summarized, and a strategy for the use of substitutes for bear bile is discussed carefully.
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Bear farms, established for the extraction of bile from live bears, have unknown effects on the conservation of bears in Asia. Whilst some major bile producing countries have tightened legislation on this practice, traders have responded by establishing bile extraction facilities in countries with weaker legislation. We conducted a survey of all known facilities in Lao PDR through direct observation or examination of governmental and non-governmental records, and documented the birth and rapid growth of this industry since the first farm was established in 2000. We also obtained trading values for gall bladders from wild bears in Lao PDR from literature, databases and direct observation. The number of farmed bears tripled from 2008 to 2012. In 2012 121 Asiatic black bears Ursus thibetanus and one sun bear Helarctos malayanus were kept on 11 commercial facilities. Evidence suggests that all bears were wild caught domestically or illegally imported internationally, in violation of national and international law. Moreover, some bile from these farms was being illegally exported internationally. Farmed bile availability has apparently not diminished the demand for wild bile, as the market value has increased dramatically since 2000. We suggest that bear farming in Lao PDR may be increasing the incentive to poach wild bears.
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The idea was to build a Chinese economic colony in the Lao wilderness. Then the gamblers, hookers and gangsters took over.
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