|photo: Animals Asia|
Remember that cute baby bear that I posted a video of yesterday? Well, this is her back story and the story of many, many bears like her.
Bile bears, sometimes called battery bears, are bears kept in captivity to harvest their bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, which is used by some traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. It is estimated that 12,000 bears are farmed for bile in China, South Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar.
|Asiatic black bear, or Moon Bear, Sun Bear and Brown Bear|
The bear species most commonly farmed for bile is the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), although the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) and the brown bear (Ursus arctos) are also used. Both the Asiatic black bear and the sun bear are listed as Vulnerable on the Red List of Threatened Animals published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They were previously hunted for bile but factory farming has become common since hunting was banned in the 1980s.
The bile can be harvested using several techniques, all of which require some degree of surgery, and may leave a permanent fistula or inserted catheter. A significant proportion of the bears die because of the stress of unskilled surgery or the infections which may occur.
|Elizabeth, a bear kept in captivity so her bile can be extracted. Asian Animal Protection Network Huizhou Farm, Vietnam. She has since been removed from the farm.|
Farmed bile bears are housed continuously in small cages which often prevent them from standing or sitting upright, or from turning around. These highly restrictive cage systems and the low level of skilled husbandry can lead to a wide range of welfare concerns including physical injuries, pain, severe mental stress and muscle atrophy. Some bears are caught as cubs and may be kept in these conditions for over 20 years.
Though the value of the bear products trade is estimated as high as $2 billion, there is no evidence that bear bile has any medicinal effect, and no plausible mechanism by which it might work. The practice of factory farming bears for bile has been extensively condemned, including by Chinese physicians.
|Sun Bear Bile Extraction Operation in Möng La, Shan, Myanmar|
In 1994, Chinese authorities announced that no new bear farms would be licensed and in 1996, issued a special notice stating that no foreign object was allowed to be inserted into a bear body. No bears younger than 3 years of age and lighter than 100 kg were to be used for bile extraction, and bears could be confined in cages only during the time of bile extraction. The authorities required the adoption of the free-drip method which necessitates the creation of an artificial fistula between the gallbladder and the abdominal wall by opening a cut into the gallbladder.
In 2006, the Chinese State Council Information Office said that it was enforcing a "Technical Code of Practice for Raising Black Bears", which "requires hygienic, painless practice for gall extraction and make strict regulations on the techniques and conditions for nursing, exercise and propagation.
However, a 2007 veterinary report published by the Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) stated that the Technical Code was not being enforced and that many bears were still spending their entire lives in small extraction cages without free access to food or water. The report also noted that the free-dripping technique promoted in the Technical Code was unsanitary as the fistula was an open portal through which bacteria could infiltrate the abdomen. The report also stated that surgeries to create free-dripping fistulae caused bears great suffering as they were performed without appropriate antibiotics or pain management and the bears were repeatedly exposed to this process as the fistulae often healed over. The free-dripping method still requires the bears to be prodded with a metal rod when the wound heals over and under veterinary examination, some bears with free-dripping fistulae were actually found to have clear perspex catheters permanently implanted into their gallbladders. In addition to the suffering caused by infection and pain at the incision site, 28% of fistulated bears also experience abdominal hernias and more than one-third eventually succumb to liver cancer, believed to be associated with the bile-extraction process.
In South Korea, bear farming was declared illegal in 1992. However, it was reported in 2008 that over 1,300 bears were still on 108 farms where farmers were hoping that legal farming would resume. As of 2008, wild bears over the age of ten could still be legally killed for their gallbladders in South Korea.
The Vietnamese government in 2005 made it illegal to extract bear bile and made a commitment to phase out bear farming. In 2008, there were still 3,410 bears on farms in Vietnam.
Poaching in the United States
In the late 1980s, U.S. park rangers began finding bear carcasses missing only gallbladders and paws. Initially, it was considered that occasional hunters were the cause, but investigations uncovered evidence that large commercial organizations were dealing in poaching and smuggling. During a three-year operation (Operation SOUP) ending in 1999, 52 people were arrested and 300 gallbladders seized in Virginia. Another investigation in Oregon led police to bring racketeering charges against an organisation that poached an estimated 50 to 100 bears per year for a decade. It was estimated in 2008 that in North America, 40,000 American black bears are illegally poached for their gallbladders and paws each year.
Be advised that the video below from Animals Asia is disturbing.
The next video is of a much happier bear, freed from a bile factory and living out his life in an Animals Asia sanctuary