On Friday, Alibaba, the world’s largest business to business e-commerce site announced a ban on the sales of products containing bear bile, which will apply to Alibaba.com and its sister site Taobao.com, a Chinese e-commerce site that runs within China.
Bear bile has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years and has resulted in thousands of bear farms in Asia where bears spend their lives in cages barely large enough for them to move in where they’re milked for their bile through a catheter, or a permanent hole in the abdomen that bile drips out of.
There are officially about 7,000 bear farms in China, but groups suspect the actual number to be higher. The World Society for the Protection of Animals estimates that approximately 12,000 bears are currently suffering on bear farms around Asia, with an estimated 16,000 left in the wild, who are considered an endangered species.
The active ingredient in bear bile, UDCA, can be synthetically created without the use of animals. Additionally, a report by the Chinese Association of Medicine and Philosophy and EarthCare has established that there are at least 54 herbal alternatives to bear bile, including Chinese ivy stem, dandelion, chrysanthemum, common sage and rhubarb. The alternatives are both cheap and effective, according to Animals Asia.
Since October 2000, over 40 bear farms have been closed down by the government and over 245 bears released into the care of Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Sichuan. The World Society for the Protection of Animals is working on a similar campaign to encourage Asian governments, practitioners and consumers to promote alternatives to bear bile.
Needless to say animal welfare groups and activists are excited about the potential impact of this ban, which also includes cat and dog meat and fur, and comes on the heels of Alibaba’s decision to ban ivory, shark fin and sea turtle sales last year.