Since 2005, when selling bile was made illegal, farmers have to care for the remaining captive bears until they die naturally, or hand them over to the forestry department for release, without compensation.

But officials say they are not able to enforce the law and prevent the illicit slaughter.

"We know about this situation but it is the responsibility of the local authority, not us," said Do Quang Tung, director of the government agency managing Vietnam's implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

After the ban, lax supervision allowed an illegal trade in bile to continue and support the farms.

But the price of bile has dropped from 16 United States dollars per millilitre to less than one dollar, prompting many to kill off their bears to save the 120 dollars a month it costs to keep them, according to one farmer.

The paws are then sold for traditional medicine, and the meat to wildlife restaurants.

Tung said his office cannot ensure that every bear death is logged as natural and the body officially incinerated.

"We have only a few staff, so we can not go to check and monitor the process of destroying a bear when it dies. We have to depend on local forestry protection forces."

But the Forest Protection Department, which is meant to coordinate the disposal of dead bears, also cannot do much, according to one senior official who asked not to be named.

"The price of bile has fallen so much. The longer they keep the bears, the more losses they suffer," he said. "Farmers are not stupid to hand over their bears to us without compensation."

On occasion a blind eye is turned to the slaughter, he said.

"To be honest, sometimes we know, but we have to ignore it because the government’s final purpose is to eliminate bear farms."

Tuan Bendixsen, Vietnam director of conservation group Animals Asia, said that knowingly allowing any bear parts onto the market encourages demand.

"It’s almost like the tigers, if you allow people to farm tiger parts, you are fuelling the market. You create a bad precedent," he said.

The government should commit the necessary resources to enforce the law, Bendixsen said.

The Bangkok Post - October 7, 2013