The northern province of Quang Ninh announced this week that it will carry out an inspection into bear farms at the resort town of Ha Long which are notorious for illegal trade of fresh bear bile to tourists.
Provincial leaders have asked the police to cooperate with local agricultural and tourism agencies as well as authorities at the UNESCO heritage town to establish a special mission to arrest and duly punish any people from travel agencies and the bear farms who violate current regulations on nature protection.
A Tien Phong report on Thursday said the announcement was made in a recent statement sent by the provincial government to local agencies and Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), a non-governmental organization established in 2000 as Vietnam's first to focus on environmental protection.
The statement, which comes after years of vigorous trade in bear bile, said results of the inspection are expected this month.
In early March last year, the Quang Ninh administration issued an order asking travel agencies not to bring tourists to bear farms in the area. But an investigation this month by ENV and local media found no compliance with the order as regular customers of the bear bile, South Korean tourists, were still frequenting the places.
The tourists would witness the bear bile being injected and buy it fresh.
Most of the farms do not have captive breeding programs and are said to depend on bears caught in the wild.
The bile trade operation is kept within a small circle. Most drivers and tour guides taking the South Korean tourists to the farms are also South Koreans who can speak Vietnamese. Locals and restaurants also looked out for the farms.
Tran Viet Hung of ENV said the bear farms "adversely affect the image of a leading tourism spot.
"Ha Long is a world natural heritage. And Vietnamese bears are part of this nature. Thus destroying them right at Ha Long is totally unacceptable."
Bear bile trade has been rising in Ha Long and northern Vietnam for many years.
A report by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC in May 2011 found bear bile products available in 65 percent of the shops surveyed in Vietnam.
"Vietnam plays a dual role as both a producer and consumer of bear bile products," said Kaitlyn-Elizabeth Foley, lead author of the report and Senior Program Officer of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
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