Seoul, January 25 - On January 26, the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Korea (ROK) signed an agreement with Gurye County (ROK), Seocheon County (ROK), the Association of Bears in Captivity, and four civic groups (the Korean Animal Welfare Association, the Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA), Project Moon Bear, and Green Korea), at the government complex in Seoul in order to declare the end of bear bile farming starting from 2026.
The key points of the agreement are as follows:
1. It will be prohibited to keep bears in captivity starting January 1, 2026.
2. The Ministry, Gurye-gun, and Seocheon-gun will establish, run, and support sanctuaries.
3. Bear farms will ensure the health and safety of the bears until transferring the bears to the sanctuaries.
4. The civic groups will contribute to the transfer through financial support and donation.
From 1981 to 1985, the country imported bears and encouraged breeding to help increase income for farmers. Since then, for the last 40 years, South Koreas has been condemned by the international community for bear bile extraction, poor living conditions of the bears, animal abuse, and continued illegal propagation.
Despite the previous efforts of the Ministry, including sterilizing captive bears and strengthening the punishment for illegal propagation, the Korean Government had a limit in addressing the problem because the captive-bred bears were considered the farms' private property.
To deal with these constraints, from August to December 2021, the Ministry established a public-private advisory group to discuss ending the bear farming in Korea. The continuous discussion reached an agreement about the end of bear farming in December 2021.
The declaration of bear bile farming has a significant meaning to Korea. This action implies that South Korea plays its role and fulfills its responsibility for protecting internationally endangered species, showing the nation's reputation on the global stage.
Based on the agreement, the Minister is also pushing forward to establish the "Special Act on Prohibition of keeping Bears in Captivity and Protection of Bears (proposed title)" by consulting with the National Assembly.
Furthermore, until 2025, the Ministry will set a foundation for protecting and managing captive bears by delegating the roles to each relevant agency. Starting from 2026, it will transfer bears surrendered by farms or confiscated by the government to sanctuaries and manage them in a humanitarian manner.
Meanwhile, at the second Ministerial Conference on Social Relations, the Ministry also announced the implementation plan of the end of bear farming. The plan consists of policy reforms, including eradicating illicit activities using un-neutered bears for exhibitions or zoos and more substantial responsibilities for safety management of facilities.
In addition, the Ministry will continue to operate the public-private consultative group for bears in captivity to review the status of the plan and discuss possible collaboration with other agencies.
Minister Han said, "The declaration of the end of bear farming has a more significant meaning since it resolves the 40 year-long problems of the bear bile farms with the joint efforts from the government, the farms, and the civil society. Since this declaration is the beginning stage of the end of bear farming, not the final stage, the government will continuously cooperate with the farms and the civil society to implement the plan stage by stage."
Contact: KIM Tae Yoon, Deputy Director
Biodiversity Division, ME