In the mid 1990s there were 480 bear bile farms in China. Now there are 65, according to a report from the Animals Asia Foundation.
For those unfamiliar with bear bile farming, bears are kept in very small cages and effectively tortured by leaving an open abdominal wound in the bears to extract their bile. About half the bears die from infections or complications. The bile is falsely believed to have medicinal benefits, so there is some demand for it in the marketplace. Some of the bears that don’t die live in constant pain with no space to move for years. However, there are now many herbal substitutes available, so there is no need to cage bears and torture them.
Bears have been hunted in Asian countries for 3,000 years, for their gallbladders and bile. The beliefs about bear-part medicinal properties go back long before the development of science. Those beliefs were largely based on superstition and anecdotes. Getting people to change their beliefs, no matter how unfounded, can be very difficult.
Some scientific research has shown bear bile might work for treating human gallstones, but there are proven alternatives that don’t require torturing bears. Also, beliefs about bear bile include curing sore eyes, hangovers, and cancer, to name several conditions. No credible scientific evidence exists that shows any benefits for these health problems. Even worse, bears kept in such conditions can be very unhealthy. Some of them have cancer, “The farmers had continued to drain bile from bears afflicted with cancers and injected excessive antibiotics into their bodies to keep them alive.” (Source: xinhuanet.com)
Not only does the bear bile draining result in absurd amounts of pain for the caged bears, it is most likely a substance that could damage human health.
The Animals Asia Foundation has been working for years with Chinese authorities to educate them about the tremendous pain the bears have endured, pain and injuries which have killed far too many. Ten years ago the Chinese government compromised by signing an agreement with the Asian Animal Foundation to let the animal charity rescue bears from bile farms. AAF has now rescued about 345 bears.
Their work, however, is not finished. There are still bear bile farms in 13 of china’s provinces, and bear bile products can be found throughout the country. Four pharmacy chains have agreed to no longer sell bear bile products.
Sadly, bear bile farming in Vietnam may simply have moved across the border into Laos, after it was banned there. The horrific practice also can be found in South Korea.
Image Credit: Asian Animal Protection Network