Most traditional medicine practitioners in Vietnam have never prescribed bear bile and oppose the farming of bears to harvest a substance that can prove deadly to humans, according to a new survey.

“We hope after knowing this information, people will not use bear bile as traditional medicines,” Tuan Bendixsen, Vietnam director of Animals Asia, said Monday. Animals Asia conducted the survey of 152 traditional healers.

Respondents acknowledged seven cases of bear bile poisoning, four of which resulted in the death of the patient.

Domestic bear farming is a small, lucrative and often illegal industry in Vietnam.

Bears can be sold for up to 10,000 dollars and their gall bladders can sell for more than 3,000 dollars. Bears also suffer from myths surrounding the supposed benefits of bear paw soup, Animals Asia said.

Bear farming was outlawed in 1992, but people are allowed to keep bears as pets. While owners claim bears are not milked for bile, “it is widely known that bear farming is a thriving industry,” Animals Asia said.

Bile extracted from bear gall bladders is often used in traditional Asian remedies, but 76 per cent of healers responding to the survey said they had never prescribed bear bile and 93 per cent said they oppose the farming of bears.

Twenty-four per cent of those surveyed had prescribed bear bile to treat medical conditions ranging from bruises, fever, poor blood circulation and cirrhosis.

“No one will die from the lack of bear bile and, ironically, it seems that people are now becoming sick and even dying from taking it,” said Jill Robinson, chief executive of Animals Asia.

Bear bile is expensive, poor quality and not scientifically proven, most respondents said. Thirty-nine herbal alternatives to bear bile were identified, with 45 per cent of respondents suggesting the bear bile plant locally known as cay mat gau.

More than 3,500 bears were kept in enclosures on farms in 2009, down from 4,190 in 2005, the department of forest management said.

Dr Nguyen Xuan Huong, chairperson of Vietnam's Traditional Medicine Association, emphasized that bear bile does not have a prominent role in traditional medicine, as only a handful of 1,500 remedies contain the substance. -