There are an estimated 1,000 Asiatic black bears, or moon bears, being kept in tiny cages in South Korea where they are farmed for their bile and gall bladders, which are used in traditional medicine.
While they’re trapped in cages so small they can barely move, their bile is extracted by permanently implanting a catheter in their abdomen’s or using a “free dripping” technique, which involves surgically creating a hole in their abdomens where bile drips out. This method is considered more humane because it doesn’t look as bad, but many argue that it’s actually more harmful than using a catheter.
Although once popular and encouraged by the government, bear farming is losing its luster and farmers are looking to get out of the business due to the decreased interest from consumers, animal welfare concerns and the cost of keeping the bears for a minimum of 10 years before they can be killed for their gall bladders. Since South Korea is a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, moon bears are protected as an endangered species and international trade in their parts is illegal.
Farmers want the government to take responsibility for the bears, which the government estimates will cost about $88 million USD. Animal advocacy groups believe it will be less if the government euthanizes bears over the age of 10, but the Environment Ministry says that’s not an option.
However, while the South Korean market is dwindling, China’s is alive and strong and supported by South Korean tourists.
According to an article in Scientific American:
In fact, it may be the size and scope of Chinese bear farming that is putting South Korea’s industry to sleep. China’s bear farming industry is 10 to 12 times the size of South Korea’s , with at least 12,000 animals being drained of their bile, and has been heavily criticized for its brutality. Poaching of wild bears is also rampant in China. Last month police in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region arrested what was characterized as a criminal gang in possession of bear paws and meat from an estimated 43 animals worth at least $3.15 million. Also last month five of the last 33 wild bears in the Changbai Mountain area of Jilin Province were killed for their gall bladders, fur, meat and paws. The meat and paws are considered delicacies in some areas. Last year a smuggling operation carrying more than 1,000 black bear paws weighing 1.2 metric tons was discovered in the Russian city of Blagoveschensk, which borders China.
Animals Asia and the Korean Animal Welfare Association are currently campaigning to stop the illegal exports from China to South Korea and raising public awareness about the effects of bringing bear bile into the country.
“Bear bile farmers in China are selling large amounts of bear bile to tourists from South Korea every year. Many tourists are unaware that it is illegal for them to take the bile back to South Korea with them. They also don’t know about the cruelty involved in farming bears, or the concerns on the safety of farmed bile. Without these sales, China’s bear farming industry would be much reduced. We are hopeful that this campaign will help to end bear bile farming in China,” said Toby Zhang, China External Affairs Director, Animals Asia.
Please sign the petition asking China to stop the practice of bear farming and retire the bears to sanctuaries.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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