Rescued bears play inside the compound operated by Animals Asia in Vietnam.
Dozens of bears rescued from farms that harvest their bile face eviction, according to a wildlife group that operates the rescue center in Vietnam. The group suspects a national park director and his daughter are behind the effort, reportedly in order to turn the land into an eco-tourism area.
"Should we be asked to relocate, it would take at least two years to construct a new sanctuary," Animals Asia founder and CEO Jill Robinson told NBC News.
The biggest concern is what happens to the 104 bears if they're evicted before a new site is built -- especially if it means returning them to cages like the ones they were kept in to milk their bile for traditional medicines sought in Vietnam and China.
"Moving our bears from their established groups in outdoor enclosures back into cages and away to a new location will have unimaginable negative effects on their behavior and psychological well-being," said Animals Asia veterinarian Kirsty Officer. "It will undo much of the work that has been put into making them feel safe and relaxed at our sanctuary."
"One example is a young sun bear called Sassy," added Annemarie Weegenaar, who manages the group's bear team. "Whenever there are loud noises or changes to her environment, such as new bears moving into her den, she gets very upset. She paces rapidly for long periods of time and often has a reduction in appetite. Our bear managers have been training her for over two years to desensitize her. Loading her into a cage and transporting her would cause her unimaginable stress."
The eviction order came from the Agriculture Ministry, which in turn said the Defense Ministry had issued the directive, Animals Asia said when it launched a letter-writing campaign Tuesday.
A rescued bear hangs out at Animal Asia's compound in Vietnam.
Vietnam's earlier support for the rescue center "is being undermined by a park director and his undue influence over the Ministry of Defense," Tuan Bendixsen, the group's Vietnam director, alleged in a statement to the media. "This is not a defense issue; it's an issue of profit."
The group said Do Dinh Tien, the director of Tam Dao National Park, had earlier lobbied the ministry to declare the area of "national defense significance." The rescue center is inside the national park.
"It is believed that he intends to hand the land over to the Truong Giang Tam Dao Joint Stock Company, in which his daughter has an investment," Animals Asia alleged. "The company has submitted an application for development of an 'eco-tourism park' and hotels."
Animals Asia estimates that more than 10,000 bears are kept on bile farms in China, sometimes for 30 years while their bile is extracted with catheters. In Vietnam, the estimate is 2,400 bears.
Bear bile has an acid that traditional Chinese medicine values as a remedy for various ailments, including fever, and to protect the liver.
"We are desperate to ensure that the rescue center is not closed down and relocated," said Robinson. "The welfare of 104 bears, who have already suffered enough, would be seriously compromised, and the rescue center and $2 million in donations would be lost."
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