Animals Asia received six bears last week after the Sichuan Forestry Department removed them from an illegal farm in China where their bile was being harvested.
The bears were reportedly in rough shape and understandably grumpy when they were taken in by their rescuers. Some had facial injuries from banging their heads on the bars of their cages, another was starving with bile leakage, while yet another will require major abdominal surgery.
“If you’ve seen the paws of the bears it’s obvious they haven’t stood on solid ground for years,” said Jill Robinson, CEO and Founder of Animals Asia.
Fortunately for these six bears, they will be treated for injuries and illnesses and have a chance to live free from the tiny cages that had confined them, but their rescue has once again brought to light the suffering of bears who are still being kept on bile farms and regularly “milked” with catheters or by a technique known as “free-dripping,” which involves creating an open hole in their abdomens through which bile drips out.
“The bears’ gall bladders are severely damaged from being repeatedly jabbed every few weeks and the process also leads to the dangerous leakage of bile into the body. In some cases, the result of this leakage is a slow, agonizing death from peritonitis. The wounds from the unsterilized needles cause massive and painful abscesses and the bears suffer severe joint and muscle ailments from their inability to move freely. Their physical pain is compounded with the mental stress that this horrific situation causes and many bears end up psychologically damaged,” said Robinson.
Many of the bears used in bile farming are Asiatic black bears, also known as moon bears because of the crescent-shaped marking on their chests, who are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Under the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the commercial export of bear parts is illegal, including gall bladders and bile.
The bears produce bile with high concentrations of Ursodeoxycholic Acid (UDCA), which is used in traditional Chinese medicine. However, UDCA can be synthetically produced without the use of animals and there are more than 50 herbal alternatives available that are affordable and effective.
Unfortunately, proponents of this insidious industry continue to insist that it’s humane.
“The process of extracting bear bile was as easy, natural and painless as turning on a tap,” said Fang Shuting, head of China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine at a press conference in February.
Animal advocates disagree and scientific evidence proves otherwise.
“When they say they have better, more humane ways of extracting the bile, it’s rubbish. You can’t surgically extract the bile and say it’s humane – it’s offensive,” said Robinson.
Fortunately, public awareness of the plight of bears on bile farms is growing. In the past decade a number of farms have been shut down and this rescue saw the 285th bear saved and released to Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Sichuan.
“In Vietnam it’s illegal and the number of bears has reduced from 4,000 to 2,400. Today in China there are a minimum of 10,000 in bear bile farms. The positive thing in China is the rise in public outrage about bear-bile farming. At one stage it was the second-most searched term after Jeremy Lin,” Robinson told the Irish Times.
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