Ban Bear-Bile Farming in China and Laos


The demand for rhinoceros horns in traditional Chinese medicine has led not only to the poaching of the endangered animals, but the theft of horns from animals in museums. Bile from bears is also an ingredient used in Chinese medicine, as a fever suppressant. The bile is cruelly extracted from bears in cages via holes punched in their bodies, a “harvesting technique” that is approved by the Chinese government.

The Guardian reports that practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine are now joining with animal rights activists to call for an end to bear-bile farming.

About 242 types of medicine, including tanreqing for lowering fever in children, are produced from bear bile. The bear-bile industry is described as secretive though there are an estimated to 96 farms in China, with about 10,000 to 20,000 bears. One bear produces about 6 1/2 pounds of bile per year, which is worth about 12,000 yuan or just under $2,000 at wholesale prices, or more when marketed directly to hospitals and buyers. One company, the Shanghai-based Kaibao, is thought to take about half of all the bile.

Bear-bile farming began in North Korea in the 1980s before spreading to China and Vietnam. After an international outcry, it was banned in Vietnam in 2005 but has taken root in Laos, one of the poorest countries in southeast Asia. The Telegraph describes the conditions of the bears on one farm:

In the wild an adult black bear would roam across a territory 100 square miles in size, but here, in the Luang Prabang farm, they are confined in barred enclosures measuring 15 sq ft. Some of the animals cannot stand fully upright and some display the repetitive swaying movements of severe stress. Most also have mange, and scratch incessantly at their patchy fur. Despite the 100F heat outside, there is no water in any of the cages.

Disturbing as all this is to witness, these bears are luckier than others. In some bile farms the bears live with a catheter inserted into their gall bladder. To enable farmers to extract the bile without risk of attack, the animals are often confined in ‘crush cages’ so tight that they can hardly move at all. A bear in a well-run zoo or safari park can live for up to 35 years. Most bile-farm bears are unlikely to survive much beyond eight years, according to Free the Bears.

Gao Yimin, a professor at Capital Medical University, is quoted by the Guardian as saying that synthetic materials are similarly effective and even safer than bear bile, and that the cruel technique used to obtain it “actually reduces the effectiveness of the gall and is harmful to human health.” Toby Zhang, external affairs director of an NGO, cites research by Chengdu military scientists that “found that 100% of farmed bears were suffering from infections and other ailments despite being pumped full of antibiotics.”  In addition, more than a third of the bears who are rescued die of liver cancer, meaning that the bile may contain carcinogens.

There are thousands of drug stores in China; about forty have agreed to stop stocking medicines made from bear bile and join campaign against its use. This support is a “major step forward,” as Jill Robinson, the founder of Animals Asia, says. She has been campaigning to end bear-bile farming since 1995. It remains unclear if the Chinese government will respond to the campaign, as Chinese authorities have a “long-standing desire to protect traditional medicine” and are concerned about the consequences of closing the industry, from finding “vast shelters or mass euthanasia” for the bears to new jobs for the workers.

But read the Telegraph‘s description of how the bile is taken from anesthetized bears and it becomes all too clear why bear-bile farming should be banned in Laos, in China and everywhere.


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Photo by shizhao


Virginia Abreu de Paula

Nobody should get death penalty. But they have to stop it right now. I just read a story of a female bear that killed her baby and suicided too to avoid this suffering. Don't know if this is true, but understandable. No petition do sign?

Sue S.
Sue S.6 years ago

Bear Bile Farms and their abuse of these endangered animals is the most despicable act I've been aware of for....Forever! The Chinese traditional medicine they practice will only save them from going to Heaven and any empathy from me. Once they wipe out all their native bear species, what do they truly believe will save them from cancer and digestive diseases then? Will they all just die?!? Ignorance should be painful. I'm usually focused on Big Cat activism, but this is horrible. Quit Exploiting Animals for their Parts!!!! This happens in California too. Bear poachers kill, then take the gall bladder, teeth and paws and sell the parts in Chinatown, SF. So sick.

SHIREEN MCKEE6 years ago


Jamie Metcalf
Jamie Minniear6 years ago

Horrible people doesn't even come close to describing those sickos. They have what is coming to them one way or another. No one can be this cruel to beauty and the Universe not make them pay for it.

guiri t.
Georgi Penev6 years ago

Mona, this has been my solution for all this shit but alas, it won't happen. I say stick them in the cages for the same period they keep the animals and this should apply to the people chaining animals up in their back yard for NO damn purpose whatsoever other than that they CAN do it.

People truly suck :(

Mona E.
Mona E6 years ago

Stick all the people responsible for this horrific crime into cages as small as the ones the bears get. The smallest cages for the big bosses making lots of money. Let them in there let's say for a month. See how great they feel!

Sue Griffiths
SUE Griffiths6 years ago

The answer is for some animal activists to contaminate lots of bear bile. When stupid, selfish people start dying, then the sales will drop dramatically. Then maybe there will be calls from inside China to end this horrific practice.

jeanette b.
Past Member 6 years ago

This inhumane practice has been allowed to go on for tooooooo long. I agree with Chad A's comments-sending him a green star.

Andrea O.
Past Member 7 years ago

And a star to Tammy R. for her spot on comments!

Andrea O.
Past Member 7 years ago

All these people involved should get the death penalty. This ranks as one of the worst forms of animal cruelty ever, and I have been an activist for over 25 years. Already signed and glad they will burn in Hell for all eternity!