The ho-hum of bear bile

(No.7, Vol.2, July 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Bear bile on sale.

I heard that from a group of Vietnamese men toasting at the food table in a restaurant located in Ha Dong, Ha Noi. They drank rice alcohol mixed with bear bile with a belief to become powerful like bears. They dissolved raw bear bile directly in Vodka alcohol to make a kind of so-called nutritious drink. A man who was about 50 years old said: ‘Drink the thing to boost sexual performance. It is very useful’. Then they all laughed and continued to drink more.
A restaurant waiter carried a tray of small bottles of bear bile to my place. She invited us (my friends and I) to buy bear bile as a local specialty, at VND 40,000 per bottle per cc (1cc=1ml). We refused. My friend said that the bear bile might originate from farms where bears were fed in poor and captive condition and their bile is extracted by a non-sterilized needle once several months. The bile may be contaminated by blood and pus of sick bears. Her uncle advised her not use this kind of bear bile because he had ever worked in a bear farm in Ha Tay. However, she argued that ‘In fact, a forest bear’s gall bladder is quite good. My mother rubbed it on her skin to reduce swellings after an accident. The bear bile is miraculously effective.’
Many Vietnamese families are keeping bear bile in their health care boxes. They believe in bear bile’s multi-faceted benefit and show their wish to obtain it as precious medicine. Besides, the Vietnamese people tend to be lazy in seeing a doctor. Some often complain that there are too many administrative procedures in national hospitals before they are treated. Therefore, they like to heal themselves as much as possible. They prefer to buy tablets from pharmacies or choose folk cures at home. Bear bile is luckily or unluckily used in traditional remedies of Vietnamese people.
To be honest, my father ever treated his tooth decay with bear bile. In emergency, my dad did not go to buy pain killers because he find bear bile available already in his house. His close friend from Dien Bien northern province had given him a package of dried gall pieces as a mountainous gift. The man said that he bought it from an ethnic minority person. He carefully showed his own experience in recognizing ‘true’ wild bear bile. He totally praised the bear bile and introduced my father about its benefits such as stopping tooth decay. Luckily, my father’s decayed tooth got better thanks to the bear bile. I am sure that he will advise me to use the rest of the bear bile if I unluckily have tooth decay!
My father told me not to seriously think that some environmental police can discover this, break in my house, make financial penalty or capture the owner or confiscate the bear bile bottle which is only in size of a human finger. No busy police officer wastes time dealing with this and no one is criminal in this case.

A bear kept for bile at a farm in Hanoi

Bear bile extraction.
Photos: Education for Nature - Viet

Another case, it is my aunt who has used bear bile for health improvement. She is suffering from breast cancer and has to go to hospital for frequent treatment. However, her daughter has also sought for other remedies to recover the cancer. She said she had a relative buy bear gall bladder from Africa. My cousin is thirty four year olds and is working for a NGOs to support poor communities. In her opinion, it is more important to protect humans, especially her beloved people before concerning about animals. She loves her mother very much and willingly affords to buy anything at any price if it is believed to help her mother escape from the Death.
A neighbour showed me where I can easily find bear bile in central Hanoi capital. It is traditional Chinese medicine shops on Lan Ong Street, Hoan Kiem District, and Western medicine market on Ngoc Khanh Street, Ba Dinh District. Liquid bear bile which is said to be fresh and sourced from bear farms is sold at VND50,000 to VND70,000 per cc. Forest bear’s dried gall bladder is less common and priced at VND 6 million per chỉ (3.75 gram=1 chỉ=10 cc). A practitioner at Lan Ong street emphasized: ‘Cost-effective. It is necessary to leave deposit money. The true wild bear’s gall bladder is rarer than gold while there are so many gold-seekers.’
Vietnam is luckily home to the Asiatic Black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and the Malayan Sun bear (Helarctos Malayanus), both of which are protected as rare species under Appendix I of CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), to which Vietnam is a signatory since 1994.
However, according to the analysis of attitudes and bear bile use in Vietnam in 2010, ENV (Education for Nature-Vietnam) pointed out 71 percent of Vietnamese users of bear bile (among 3,032 interviewees) thought that bear bile consumption is not illegal. Moreover, the concept of ‘animal welfare’ is still new to them. ENV also indicated that very few users (2.8%) promised to stop using bear bile in the future. Most of the Vietnamese residents were reported to consume bear bile with traditional belief, not science.
It seems that belief is always more powerful than science. What is false or true, bad or good seems not to require an accurate answer. Remarkably, the Vietnamese people still have powerful belief in bears, instead of believing in their own gall bladder.

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