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Community attitudes towards bears, bear bile use, and bear conservation in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR

Sukanan, Darunee, Anthony, Brandon P.
Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine 2019 v.15 no.1 pp. 15
Ursidae, animals, attitudes and opinions, bile, farms, gender, household surveys, interviews, markets, medicinal properties, nationalities and ethnic groups, outreach, questionnaires, socioeconomic status, traditional medicine, villages, wildlife management, China, Laos
BACKGROUND: Bear bile is widely believed across much of Asia to have medicinal properties. As a result, great numbers of bears have been poached from the wild and numerous bear farms have been set up to drain the animals’ bile on a regular basis. Although most such farms are now illegal, they continue to exist in countries such as Lao PDR. A new bear sanctuary is under construction in Luang Prabang in the northern part of the country with the aim of providing shelter to bears rescued from these farms. Understanding the level and nature of local communities’ support for this sanctuary is vital for the long-term success of conservation efforts in the area, including outreach. METHODS: This research, drawing from both ethnozoological and conservation frameworks, comprises a household survey (n = 263) administered in five villages surrounding the sanctuary and in-depth interviews conducted with key community leaders and institutional representatives. The questionnaire assessed local socio-economic status and attitudes towards bears, bear bile use, and bear conservation in general. RESULTS: Respondents have generally positive attitudes towards bears and bear conservation. Age, gender, ethnicity, village, and household size have significant influence on attitudes towards bear bile use, which may also be determined by the expansion of sources for the supply of the traditional medicine market in neighboring China. However, many locals lack knowledge about the current status of wild and captive bears. This may be due to inadequate outreach involving community incentives for positively influencing attitudes. We argue that local communities will need to be integrated into conservation efforts while enhancing knowledge of conservation issues through improved outreach and communication. CONCLUSION: Positive attitudes towards bears appear prevalent in the communities surrounding the new sanctuary. Villagers are familiar with laws regarding wildlife conservation but lack a deeper understanding of the status and plight of wild bears in the country, particularly how bear farming is a threat to the species. Conservation efforts must entail culturally relevant co-educational initiatives to garner further support from local communities.