Nirmal Ghosh – Straits Times
Bangkok. A wildlife refuge for bears rescued from painful captivity where their bile is extracted will soon open in Vientiane. It will be able to house up to 200 bears in spacious forested enclosures.
The Acres Wildlife Rescue and Education Centre (Awrec) is a partnership of three groups – Singapore’s Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), a Thai wildlife organization called Love Wildlife Foundation, and the privately run Lao Zoo.
This is the first time a Singaporean animal welfare organization has gone international.
Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, on an official visit to Laos, yesterday witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the new center. He was joined by Thongloun Sisoulith, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Laos.
“Wildlife and environmental conservation is an increasingly important issue, so the joint effort is very encouraging,” Shanmugam told The Straits Times by phone. “This (animal welfare) is everybody’s business and I welcome NGOs and citizens playing a role.”
He added that those working on these issues outside Singapore should do so within the context of local laws and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
Keeping bears in captivity and extracting bile from their gall bladders is a common practice across mainland Southeast Asia and China. The bile is in demand in China for its alleged medicinal properties.
But the bears live for most of their lives in cages in which they can hardly move, and the daily bile extraction is carried out via catheter and is extremely painful.
Wildlife and animal rights groups have long campaigned against the practice, with some success in China, where a recent public outcry stalled the initial public offering of a firm that made pharmaceutical products using bear bile.
There are an estimated 200 bears in bile farms in Laos — although no exact figures are available. “Some are legal and some are not,” Acres executive director Louis Ng said.
The 5ha Awrec site is adjacent to the Lao Zoo, which owns the land. It will be developed into forested enclosures and be operational hopefully in six months’ time, he said.
The new center will also take in other rescued wildlife, and plans to work with field biologists and other NGOs on reintroducing some species to the jungles of Laos — a country with rich biodiversity under threat from illegal logging and extraction of wildlife.
Acres will also provide technical assistance in terms of improving enclosures and medical care at the Lao Zoo. The Love Wildlife Foundation in turn will focus on developing educational programs. A new wildlife crime and rescue hotline will also be set up to help combat the illegal wildlife trade.
Shanmugam, who is on a two-day visit to Laos, has met Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong to discuss ways to further bilateral cooperation.
Both men also exchanged views on issues such as the importance of Asean achieving its community-building targets, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday.
Thongloun, in his meeting with Shanmugam, spoke about Laos’ development priorities, and expressed appreciation for Singapore’s help in its capacity-building efforts, particularly in the field of human resource development, said the MFA statement.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times