Cruel bear bile industry is thriving despite pandemic risks
As the world struggles with coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic, we reveal the abhorrent cruelty of bear farming for traditional medicine and the unacceptable scale of the bear bile trade
Our treatment of bears and other wild animals is cruelty and abuse on an industrial scale
Bear bile is the problem, not the cure
Our new report, Cruel Cures, comes just days after extremely disappointing news that the Chinese government recommends the use of a bear bile product, alongside a number of plant-based traditional medicines, to treat severe symptoms caused by COVID-19.
This all the more shocking given that the handling of wild animals is believed to be the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. We're calling on the Chinese government to remove this drug from its recommended list and only include plant-based traditional medicines.
A bear cub on a farm in Vietnam - photo by our partners Education for Nature Vietnam
A threat to animals and people
Right now, there are approximately 24,000 bears caged and farmed for their bile for traditional medicine products across Asia - in China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Lao PDR and South Korea.
This should ring alarm bells, as 60% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic (transferring from animals to humans), and 70% of these are thought to originate from wild animals. Zoonotic diseases collectively cause over two million human deaths annually.
A life of torture for bears
Bear bile is extracted from live, suffering bears, and is one of the most extreme forms of animal abuse in the world. The bears are largely bred into captivity, trapped in small, barren cages in factory farm style conditions for the duration of their long, miserable lives.
They suffer unthinkable traumas on a regular basis. Most commonly, their bile is drained from their gallbladder using a metal tube through a surgically created opening in the bear’s abdomen. This intense, agonising process causes bears to moan and quiver throughout.
Another world is possible
Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, our global head of wildlife research and animal welfare, said: "Our treatment of bears and other wild animals is cruelty and abuse on an industrial scale. It has to end now – by putting in place a comprehensive and permanent ban on wildlife trade, and by closing down all bear bile and wildlife farms.
Using wildlife in medicine is cruel, unnecessary and a risk to public health. Another world is possible. Plant-based alternatives are available.”
Bear on a farm in Vietnam with fur loss, possible due to stress - photo by Tim Gerard Baker for World Animal Protection
Ban the global trade in wild animals forever
Recent developments in China and Vietnam have been encouraging, where both countries have banned the consumption of wild animals. This ban must be extended to include the use of wildlife in traditional medicine, preventing animals such as bears, tigers and pangolins from being abused.
We call on the Chinese government to remove bear bile preparations from its recommended list and only endorse plant-based medicines to treat COVID-19 symptoms.
On a global level, we are calling on governments, organisations and nations to unite to end the global trade in wild animals forever.