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In December 2011 four members of the ENV Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) conducted a survey of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) shops in Hanoi to determine the availability of bear bile and evaluate the attitudes of TCM practitioners in relation to its use.
The target area was Lan Ong street, in Hoan Kiem district. This street is appropriately named after a known TCM physician from the past, and is now the center for TCM commercial activity in Hanoi.
In total, 39 TCM shops were surveyed, 36 of which were on Lan Ong street. Surveys of the other three shops were conducted as practice runs prior to the Lan Ong survey, to ensure that the survey methods would yield results before surveying the target area.
Two of the practice runs were on Hang Can Street, and the last one was conducted on Tay Son Street. All three practice runs were conducted in exactly the same manner as the main body of the survey, and therefore were included in the analysis
The survey team posed as prospective customers requesting something to treat muscle and joint pain in order to see if bear bile was recommended or sold. Initially during the conversation with TCM shop subjects, bear bile was not mentioned in order to ascertain if bear bile would be recommended. However, if there was no mention of bear bile as the discussion progressed, survey staff would note to the interview subject that they had heard about bear bile, in order to solicit a response specific to the issue.
Of the 39 shops surveyed, practitioners at 72% (n=28) of the shops both recommended and sold bear bile. However, 41% (n=16) stated that other medicines were superior to bear bile, and 82% (n=32) recommended an alternative. The alternatives were always a premixed, wrapped bundle of various ingredients produced by the shop’s TCM practitioner, and thus it would make sense that practitioners recommend their own remedies in order to secure sales and promote specialization as bear bile was widely available in most shops.
Nine of the shops surveyed did not sell bear bile and none of the 28 shops that did sell bear bile advertised bear bile either inside or outside of the shop, and none of the shops had bear bile products on display.
During the survey, bear bile was available in two different forms; powdered form, and liquid bile. Liquid bear bile was more common with 62% (n=24) of all the shops surveyed selling it, whereas only 10% (n=4) of the shops sold “powdered gall bladder”. None of the shops sold both powdered and liquid form.
Powdered gallbladder was considerably more expensive with prices ranging from VND 140,000/g to VND 1,125,000/g. In contrast, the average price of liquid bear bile was VND 73,958/cc with prices ranging from VND 40,000/cc to VND 250,000/cc. One shop sold small pieces of dried gallbladder for considerably cheaper price, VND 140,000/g, leading the survey team to suspect that the product may not be genuine.
Three of the four shops that sold powdered gall bladder, sold it increments known as “Đông` cân”, or what is referred to as a “TCM gram”. During a subsequent interview with Ms. Ms. Tran Thi Hong Ngai, a practicing doctor at Hanoi TCM hospital. Specialist in bone disease, she informed staff that bear gallbladder sells in increments of 3.75g. It is sensible to take the dong can into account during any subsequent research where to ensure that accurate units are assessed when prices are quoted in weights.
ENV’s bear bile survey was carried out in partnership with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and the Freeland Foundation.
The survey is the first in a series of investigations focused on Traditional Medicine trade in Vietnam.