Vietnamese police have arrested a bear owner for the first time after netting a record haul of hundreds of bile bottles in Hanoi, a wildlife protection organisation said Friday.
The communist country is a major hub for the illegal trade in wild animals and bears are kept to drain the bile from their gallbladders for use in traditional medicine.
Authorities outlawed bile extraction in Vietnam in 2005, but bear farms were allowed to keep the animals they already had.
Those convicted of extracting the bile can face prison sentences of up to five years.
Hanoi police arrested a man from the suburban Phuc Tho district, a prime location for bear farms, while he was carrying 350 bottles of bile fluid late last week.
It is believed to be Vietnam’s biggest ever seizure of bear bile, the Education for Nature from Hanoi said.
“This is the first time a bear owner in Hanoi has been arrested and examined for criminal responsibility for the illegal transport and trade of bear bile,” Education for Nature deputy head Bui Thi Ha said in a statement.
The organisation said there were close to 150 caged bears kept at properties in Hanoi that represented half of the total nationwide.
The arrested man owned seven bears and was caught transporting the bottles in his car but it is not clear where the bear bile was destined for.
Many Vietnamese and Chinese people believe bear bile can be used as a cure for bruises, cancer or to boost longevity.
Elsewhere in Vietnam, charity Animals Asia said it had rescued three bear cubs and a 20-year-old bear over the past two days from the northern mountainous provinces of Dien Bien and Son La.
The animals were brought to a rescue sanctuary closer to Hanoi.
Two of the cubs were rescued from traffickers and weigh less than five kilograms, and will now require “immediate round the clock care”.