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Bear sanctuary evicted from national park in Vietnam

HANOI — Vietnam's Ministry of Defense ordered the eviction of a bear sanctuary from a national park on the grounds of "national defense," the charity that runs the sanctuary said Wednesday.

Animals Asia Vietnam country director Tuan Bendixsen said he heard the news at a meeting with government ministries Friday.

"Our bear center in Tam Dao will be closed and moved elsewhere if possible," he said. "Obviously, we're all in shock about this decision, and the implication is enormous."

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The Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre in Tam Dao National Park in Vinh Phuc province, about 42 miles north of Hanoi, hosts 104 bears confiscated from bile farms or given up by pet owners.

The sanctuary has been hailed as one of the most successful conservation stories in the South-East Asian country, which has a brisk trade in animal products and rapid deforestation.

Animals Asia accused park director Do Dinh Tien of lobbying the Ministry of Defense to evict the sanctuary after failing to force the charity to relinquish 6 hectares of land for a hotel project.

The organization alleged that Tien's daughter is one of the founders of the Truong Giang Tam Dao company, which wanted to build the hotel.

Animals Asia had earmarked the land to build an enclosure for 101 more bears.

Efforts to contact Tien for comment were unsuccessful.

The expansion of the bear center will directly affect the defense area and national defense projects in the area, the Ministry of Defense said in a letter to the agriculture minister in July.

Nguyen Huu Dung, director of the department of forest management, said the government was still considering the case.

Tuan said the final decision would be made by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who gave permission for the sanctuary to be built in 2008. If Dung backs the Defense Ministry, Tuan said, the government's commitment to end bear-bile farming would be called into question.

"This is not a defense issue; it's an issue of profit," Tuan said. "This one man, whose daughter stands to directly profit from the relocation of the center, should not be allowed this much power."

An estimated 14,000 moon bears are being held in captivity on farms across Asia and milked for their bile. It is used in traditional Asian medicine despite the availability of inexpensive and effective herbal and synthetic alternatives.

Bears are kept in small cages, drugged, restrained and have their abdomens jabbed with 10-centimetre needles until their gall bladders are punctured to release their bile.

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