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Bear bile farm­ing to be phased out, says IUCN

pub­lished 18 Sep­tem­ber 2012 | mod­i­fied 18 Sep­tem­ber 2012

Bear bile farm
Accord­ing to experts, the exis­tence of bear bile farms has not reduced the pres­sure on wild bear pop­u­la­tions. Instead, con­fis­ca­tion records indi­cate that cubs are rou­tinely taken from the wild, espe­cially from South­east Asia, to stock bear farms, which sup­ply much of the med­i­cines and prod­ucts in demand through­out Asia.

The issue of bear farms was on the agenda at the recent Inter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN) World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress in Jeju, Korea after a motion to phase out com­mer­cial bear bile farm­ing was tabled for debate at the meeting.

The term ‘farm’ is a mis­lead­ing one, as it implies the bears are being bred and that the trade may be sus­tain­able. This is absolutely not the case and wild bears con­tinue to be sourced for the extrac­tion of bile
Chris R. Shep­herd, deputy direc­tor of TRAF­FIC South­east Asia and co-​chair of the trade expert team of the IUCN SSC Bear Spe­cial­ist Group »

Ris­ing prices of wild cubs on the black mar­ket indi­cate a high demand. At the same time, sur­veys have found that that farms in Lao PDR, Myan­mar and Viet Nam show low suc­cess in breed­ing bears. Breed­ing records on Chi­nese farms are not avail­able to cor­rob­o­rate the claim that they are self-​sustaining. There is lit­tle evi­dence to sup­port claims that farms relieve pres­sure on wild bear pop­u­la­tions, given bear pop­u­la­tions are in decline in the bear-​farming coun­tries in South­east Asia and China.

Bile is used as a med­i­cine for spe­cific ill­nesses, and has a long his­tory in Chi­nese cul­ture. Con­sumer demand for wild-​sourced bear bile con­tin­ues to drive poach­ing with many con­sumers believ­ing wild bile is more potent and pure.

Within a decade of farms open­ing in Lao PDR, demand for wild bear bile sky­rock­eted, and poach­ers have taken bears to sup­ply not only this lucra­tive mar­ket, but also to sup­ply farms.

“These facil­i­ties are a source of prod­ucts enter­ing the global black mar­ket and are a major dri­ver behind the poach­ing of wild bears.” says Shep­herd. “Such facil­i­ties have no demon­stra­ble pos­i­tive impact on bear conservation.”

The motion before IUCN high­lights how bile farm­ing has cre­ated a much wider mar­ket of con­sumers who con­sider this prod­uct an essen­tial “tonic” to pro­mote and main­tain good health, rather than a med­i­cine to fight illness.

A 2011 report by TRAF­FIC in South­east Asia, Pills, Pow­ders, Vials and Flakes: the bear bile trade in Asia, found bear bile extrac­tion facil­i­ties to be a major source of ille­gal prod­ucts enter­ing the inter­na­tional mar­ket, in vio­la­tion of national laws, and the Con­ven­tion on Inter­na­tional trade in Endan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The motion to phase out farm­ing of bears for their bile has been sub­mit­ted for con­sid­er­a­tion and debate at the com­ing IUCN World Con­ser­va­tion Con­gress. Motions are cen­tral to IUCN’s gov­er­nance sys­tem and an impor­tant means by which Mem­bers can influ­ence future direc­tions in the con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity and seek inter­na­tional sup­port for con­ser­va­tion issues. If adopted by a major­ity of vot­ing Mem­bers, they may take the form of res­o­lu­tions or rec­om­men­da­tions that guide con­ser­va­tion pol­icy and action.

Good News: motion is adopted! [although the orig­i­nal text of the motion has been mod­i­fied — some valu­able remarks being removed, Moos]

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at TRAF­FIC. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: TRAF­FIC, 24.08.2012; IUCN, 14.09.2012)

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