At times, it becomes difficult to understand why humans continue to inflict some of the most barbaric atrocities imaginable upon other species that inhabit our world. There is no measure which says that one abuse is worse than any other form, however, one can not deny true horror when we are faced with a most blatant example. That being said, it is extremely difficult to answer questions as to why the moon bear is still being “harvested” for its bile.
The bile bear is a breed of Asian black bear which is also referred to as the moon bear or battery bear. They have been dubbed the bile bear, obviously because humans hold them captive under nightmarish conditions in Vietnam and China to secure their bile. Bile is a digestive fluid generated by the liver to break down excess fatty substances and it is stored in the gall bladder. Bear bile is unfortunately, highly coveted as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine and therefore, a foolish human “need” once again, leads toward the abuse of another innocent life form. Many of these bears were simply slaughtered in the wild for their gall bladders before the implementation of bear bile farms. Some would agree that those were the lucky ones, considering what moon bears endure in bear bile farms.
In this detestable “industry”, moon bears spend almost their entire tortured and shortened lives in tiny cages which are commonly referred to as extraction cages or “crush cages”. These cages are truly no larger than the bears, themselves. This makes the puncturing procedure easier and prevents the bears from resisting or moving. If the bears do resist, a restrictive corset is strapped about their midsection to hold them tightly in place. Living a “half-life” in the area of a decade in this environment results in severe physical and mental anguish, as well as self-mutilation.
Many Asian bear bile farms were visited and researched by the World Society for the Protection of Animals(WSPA). What they found were bears gnawing on their own paws, moaning in great agony and banging their heads repeatedly against their cages, frantically attempting to deal with the pain and mental stresses in futility. Bears utilized for their bile suffer from a wide range of physical issues including malnutrition, skin/hair disorders, strained/stunted growth, muscle atrophy, liver cancer and severe infections from the gaping wounds inflicted during the extraction methods. Often, they tear their own teeth and claws out or have them purposefully removed by the bear bile “farmers”. Bear cubs born on bile farms sometimes grow into the bars of their cages as their bodies mature. When the bears are no longer producing bile properly, they are generally killed for food or their fur gall bladders and paws. The paws are considered a delicacy in some parts of Asia. Some “farmers” will amputate one or more paws from live bears to sell to restaurants. The gall bladders are also used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The bears normally go through the “bile harvesting” process twice daily through the use of an implanted tube, which can extract up to one half ounce of bile. The process is extremely painful. Bears can be seen moaning, clawing/biting their cages and chewing their paws during the “milking” process. Often, hollow steel tubes are simply stabbed through the bear’s abdomen. The use of metal catheters have been banned, though bears in bear bile farms can still be found with catheters in them. A “free drip” method is also utilized. A permanent hole is made in the bear’s abdomen, traveling to the gall bladder, from which bile drips out. Obviously, this wound is always open to severe infection and bile can easily bleed into the abdomen. This hole can be kept open with a catheter, which causes severe pain. It is estimated by Chinese veterinary specialists that most of the “surgery” is carried out to procure the bile by “farmers” who have absolutely no veterinary training, whatsoever, and for every successful bile extraction implementation, there are nearly two that go wrong. When this happens, the bears are often left to die in great pain.
WSPA’s study in the early 2000’s estimated that there were nearly 250 bile bear farms in China, holding a possible 9,000 bears and roughly 4,000 bile bears in Vietnam, where mere drops of bile is sold for the equivalent of about $10.00. The Animals Asia Foundation has worked with the Chinese government to remove hundreds of endangered Moon Bears from the worst bile farms imaginable and continue to work towards ending the practice, whilst helping to advocate for the advancement of animal welfare in China.
The moon bear is listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union’s “Red List of Threatened Animals”. Moon bear numbers in China may be as low or lower than 20,000. There could be as few as 25,000 in all of Asia. Even if we were not discussing an endangered animal, the sheer abusive brutality employed by this “industry” should be more than enough to sway minds around the globe in the direction of placing a blinding halt to it. So why do these governments still allow the farms to exist?
The Chinese government claims that bear bile farming is a plausible answer to the loss of wild bears from poaching because keeping captive bears reduces the number of bears killed each year, due to the demand. The demand comes from doctors who continue to promote and practice traditional Chinese medicine. Bear bile contains ursodeoxycholic acid, which is believed to reduce fever, protect the liver, improve eyesight, break down gallstones, reduce cardiac ailments, cure impotence and act as an anti-inflammatory. Sadly, the high demand for the bile has led to increased and intensive farming of bears. Only small amounts are used in traditional Chinese medicine, however. According to WSPA, the excess is being used in a wide range of products such as wines, shampoos, eye drops, and tonics or ointments, all of which are far removed from the traditional Chinese medicinal methods. As modern chemistry has developed other alternatives to generate pharmaceutical grade ursodeoxycholic acid, it is ridiculous to consider that bear bile farming still occurs. Many Chinese doctors have publicly endorsed over 75 viable herbal substitutes, which are cheaper, more effective and more humane. There are no other substances in mammalian bile which contains anything beneficial to humans.
In 2006, the Chinese government stated that it was prepared to enforce a code of practice for raising the bears, which would require painless practices for gall extraction. This code was to place strict regulations on the techniques used on and living conditions for the bears. Unfortunately, an investigative report published in 2007 by the Animals Asia Foundation stated that this new code of conduct was not being enforced. Most bears were still spending their entire lives in small crush cages without free access to food or water and the extraction methods had not altered. Animals Asia also remarked that surgeries to create “free drip” intrusions into the bears’ bodies caused great suffering as they were performed without appropriate antibiotics or pain medication/management. Bears are repeatedly exposed to this process because the “free-drip” method still requires bears to be “punctured” with a metal rod when the wound heals over. Many of the bears forced to endure this method have clear catheters permanently implanted into their gall bladders. In addition to the suffering caused by infection and pain of the incision, more than one third of the bears undergoing this particular process eventually succumb to liver cancer.
There are two moon bear rescue centers in China, set up by the Animals Asia Foundation and Jill Robinson. Please visit them at www.animalsasia.org for more information on what you can do to help. They have rescued hundreds of bile bears, as well as many other animals. The centers allow all of their rescues to run and play, as any animal should.
There are many unrealistic examples of abuse toward life for which our species is responsible, however, when one encounters the plight of the moon bear, it is not possible for any respectable human being to walk away with closed eyes or hearts. The existence of horrors such as this brings shame to all of humanity.
The AELLA Team