Today, on the 26th March 2015, Animals Asia Foundation have rescued two bears from a lifetime of bear bile farming. The team are currently making the 2000 km journey to their rehabilitation sanctuary. This will be the first time, in over a decade, that the two bears, Coco and Yogi, will have left a cage. These are not the first bears to be rescued by the foundation, and they won’t be the last. This article aims to explain what bear bile farming is, as well as where and why it happens.
Bear bile farming is the process of ‘milking’ (extracting) bear bile from the gall bladders of Asiatic black, sun and brown bears to use in traditional forms of medicine. The bears are kept in small, individual cages for easy extraction. These cages are called ‘crush cages’ and typically measure 2.6 feet x 4.4 feet x 6.5 feet. There are several different methods of bile extraction – all equally traumatic. These include a repeated injection which punctures the gall bladder, and the free-drip method which allows the bile to drip freely out of the bears. The bears are often referred to as ‘battery bears’ and they never leave their cages. Bears normally only produce bile for ten years, and following this time, they are often slaughtered.
For the most part, bear bile farming occurs in China and Vietnam, however other smaller parts of Asia are also known for the practise. According to the Animals Asia foundation, there are currently more than 10,000 bears being farmed for their bile in China alone. The foundation also states that, as well as Asian countries, bear bile is also in demand in Canada and the United States.
Why? Bear bile contains ursodeoxycholic acid, a substance which is used to treat a variety of illnesses. Only a small amount of bear bile is necessary to create such drugs, however according to the WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals), more than 7,000 kg is being produced, of which the surplus ends up in shampoos, tea, and eye drops. The effectiveness of ursodeoxycholic acid in treating a number of these conditions is not always well known, and as prolonged exposure or increased doses has been shown to suppress immune responses, there are alternatives that can be safer, as well as cheaper.
So that’s bear bile farming and as you can see, it’s pretty grim. However, we can’t let it continue to be a taboo, and awareness is key.
For more information, consult the AnimalsAsia Foundation.