"We are confident that the remaining captive bile bears in Vietnam, China and elsewhere will be the last generation to suffer."
The exploitation of captive bears for their bile is one of the worst examples of bear cruelty in the world today.
Bears in Asia are captured for their bile, which is extracted using cruel, painful procedures and sold as traditional medicine. It’s estimated that 24,000 bears are confined in small cages in China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, South Korea and Vietnam.
Bear bile medicine uses
Despite the availability of synthetic and plant-based alternatives, it is used to treat a host of illnesses and wellbeing issues ranging from liver cancer to hangovers.
In China, it is commonly extracted from continuously restrained live bears using the ‘free-dripping fistula technique’. This involves inserting a stainless-steel catheter through a surgically created fistula to produce a canal leading directly into the gall bladder. Fluid is drained daily. It is so painful that observers report the agony endured by bears who quiver and moan throughout the draining process.
Bear bile farming
Farmed bears also suffer intensely from infected surgical wounds, hernias, tumours, bone deformities, parasites and other conditions including liver cancer. Most wrongly believe that the big brand pharmaceutical companies involved in bear bile medication production would have high standards of welfare and safety.
Wild bear populations are affected by the bile industry too – some consumers believe that wild bile is more potent. In the Asian countries where they are farmed, Asiatic black bears and sun bears are hunted and killed for their gall bladders, while others are hunted and taken live to the farms. Because these bears face a high risk of extinction, hunting poses a serious threat to bear conservation and the survival of both species.
Protecting bears for three decades
For 30 years now, World Animal Protection has been campaigning to put an end to bear cruelty worldwide. On ending the bear bile farming, we funded investigations into the illegal trade in bear products in Asia and Japanese bear parks in 1991. This led to different campaigns in other countries where it was practiced— particularly in China, Vietnam and South Korea.
Most captive bears kept for their bile are held in China, where legal bear farms hold around 20,000 bears; another 2,000 may be farmed illegally. In China alone the legal industry is worth more than US$1 billion and operated by big brand pharmaceutical companies.
As it is legal in China, the main task for us is to influence the government and pharmaceutical companies to change its policies. We also promote herbal or humane synthetic bear bile substitutes.
84% of Chinese people want an end the bear bile industry
We are engaging with relevant stakeholders in China to send a strong message to government agencies, traditional medicine practitioners, companies and consumers that majority of Chinese people hope to see this cruel industry being banned. In a 2015 research conducted by World Animal Protection and a local partner Beijing AITA Foundation for Animal Protection, it showed that almost 84% of Chinese people wanting to see the industry ending.
Through our work, China’s leading government think tank, the Research Institute of Resources and Environment Policies of the Development Research Centre of the State Council (DRC) set out clear recommendations in 2016 to end it in China within the next 20 years - signalling the end for this brutal industry is inevitable.
Meanwhile, the number of pharmaceutical companies committing to support World Animal Protection’s call for wildlife-free traditional medicine is growing.
In 2005, the Vietnamese Government agreed to work with World Animal Protection to phase-out bear farms. World Animal Protection funded the government of Vietnam to microchip and 4,500 bears kept in captivity. Microchipping prevents the entry of new bears in the industry. Bears found without microchip will be confiscated and put in government facilities or sanctuaries.
Our work in Vietnam continues to this day but we can now see the inevitable demise of this industry.
Meanwhile, 479 bears remain on South Korean farms to be slaughtered for their gall bladders which contain the bile. However, South Korean farmed bear numbers are declining sharply. The South Korean government is phasing out the farming after working with World Animal Protection and Green Korea United to sterilise all remaining captive bears on bear farms.
The bears in captivity in the country will be the last generation that will suffer from this cruel practice.
There is evidence of declining demand for bear bile products in China, Vietnam, and South Korea. But the misery and suffering caused to bears by the traditional Chinese medicine trade is far from over.
World Animal Protection is committed to continue working to protect bears from this unacceptable suffering. The success of our work in South Korea inspired us to continue changing the system, policies and mindset that allow farming of bears and other wildlife for commercial exploitation.
We are confident that the remaining captive bile bears in Vietnam, China and elsewhere will be the last generation to suffer.
Gilbert M. Sape,
Global Head of Campaign - Wildlife, Not Medicine.
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