Moos’ Blog

Bio­di­ver­sity Counts!
Obser­va­tions and opin­ions con­cern­ing zoos, evo­lu­tion, nature con­ser­va­tion and the way we treat/​support the ecosys­tems which are sup­posed to serve us.


Hideous bear farm­ing in China

pub­lished 22 July 2012 | mod­i­fied 18 Decem­ber 2016

A recent arti­cle in the news­pa­per I read con­fronted me, again, with unset­tling ani­mal cru­elty in China. Dri­ven by the needs of tra­di­tional Chi­nese med­i­cine (TCM) prac­tice Asian black bears, aka Moon bears, (Ursus thi­betanus) are farmed for their bile pro­duc­tion. This type of bear farm­ing started in 1980 when China signed the Con­ven­tion on Inter­na­tional Trade in Endan­gered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES),after which it was for­bid­den to hunt and kill Asian black bears in the wild for their bile.

Moon bears climbingNowa­days bile har­vest­ing is done via drain­ing the gal blad­der of bears that are kept alive in small cages for 10 to 20 years. The drain­ing is done via catheter, nee­dle or open wounds. Dur­ing this period bile is har­vested drop by drop every sin­gle day. Like grinded tiger bones, bear bile pro­duc­tion is very prof­itable with net pro­ceeds of about 600 US dol­lar per kilo, and 810 kilo bile per year for every bear. This equals the aver­age Chi­nese annual salary. Off­cially there are 68 com­pa­nies reg­is­tered which keep a total of 600 bears in cap­tiv­ity. Accord­ing to Ani­mals Asia Foun­da­tion (AA) this fig­ure should be mul­ti­plied by a fac­tor of one hun­dred when account­ing for ille­gal, under­ground, enterprises.

Jour­nal­ist and ani­mal rights activist Xiong Jun­hui has made a video of this dis­turb­ing form of ani­mal exploita­tion. She got access to the ille­gal farms by imper­son­at­ing a sci­en­tist, a TCM doc­tor or a con­cerned grand­child look­ing for a cure for a sick grand­par­ent. The video shown here and pho­tos on the AA web­site speak for itself I would say.

But is there a big dif­fer­ence to the sit­u­a­tion we exploit ani­mals such as dairy cows, which is well accepted farm­ing, and these bile bears? In fact, both these pro­duc­tion ani­mals are kept in con­fined areas to facil­i­tate har­vest­ing (milk­ing, bile drain­ing). And both their excre­tions can be replaced by other products.

In the case of milk we have dis­cov­ered many years ago it is a con­ve­nient liq­uid excre­tion with high nutri­tional value. Unfor­tu­nately, it led to cat­tle breeds with enor­mous milk pro­duc­tion and equal udders, kept indoors in huge farms. Unnec­es­sar­ily, because the same nutri­tional value can be found in a com­bi­na­tion of sev­eral plant prod­ucts. Fur­ther­more, the idea of increas­ing the cow’s milk pro­duc­tion by the use of bST (bovine soma­totropin) growth hor­mone is shock­ing I think, as it impairs the animal’s integrity and metab­o­lism. Over­all we have cre­ated cows that are to be con­sid­ered top ath­letes, being top per­form­ers on the brink of ill health wait­ing for the next udder infection.

In the case of bile bears, we haven’t had the time yet to breed high bile pro­duc­ing bears. As a mat­ter of fact, wild bears con­tinue to be sourced for the extrac­tion of bile. The term farm is absolutely mis­lead­ing, while no bears are being bred on such facil­i­ties. But with an increas­ing demand for TCM with bear bile, due to the increas­ing pop­u­la­tion size in China and the impor­tance of TCM within Chi­nese cul­ture, bear farm­ing will increase I am afraid. As with milk, bear bile has got value for humans who use it. Some of the active com­pounds of bile, espe­cially ursodeoxy­cholic acid, reduce cho­les­terol lev­els and can reduce the size of gall­stone non-​surgically. But as the active com­pounds have been iden­ti­fied and can be syn­thetised arti­fi­cially, it is absolutely not nec­es­sary to use bear bile any­more. There­fore it is dis­ap­point­ing that an increas­ing amount of 240 TCMs that con­tain bear bile is used in China, Tai­wan, Viet­nam, North– and South-​Korea, Indone­sia and even in Europe and the US. Although the promi­nent Rec­tor of the Shang­hai Uni­ver­sity for TCM, pro­fes­sor Tao Jian Sheng, pleads for clo­sure of all ille­gal bear farms he still sup­ports the use of bear bile in TCM. He is con­vinced of the magic of the effect on health by bear bile. It is an ancient Chi­nese cul­ture that denies the intake of chem­i­cal prod­ucts as med­i­cine, he says. More­over, bear bile con­sists of more than just the two or three active com­pounds in mod­ern med­i­cines accord­ing Tao Jian Sheng.

Although ani­mal wel­fare is impaired in dairy farm­ing en bile bear farm­ing, I agree it is ridicu­lous to make the com­par­i­son. The per­ma­nent infec­tion and pain the bears are suf­fer­ing from is beyond words. This must stop as very good alter­na­tives for bear bile com­pounds are avail­able on the mar­ket nowa­days. Mod­ern med­i­cines that are chem­i­cally synthesised.

But we are talk­ing about Chi­nese cul­ture here, and I expect it will not be easy to change this cul­ture. Forty per­cent of the Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion use TCM, which makes TCM an enor­mous mar­ket poten­tial for indus­try. Nev­er­the­less, every effort should be made to alle­vi­ate the suf­fer­ing of these bile bears, and con­vince Chi­nese gov­ern­ment offi­cials that chem­i­cally syn­thetised bile prod­ucts are as good a med­i­cine as bear bile. This could sup­port a turn­ing point in the way TCM is addressed by Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. Recently, Zhou Jie (a retired TCM-​professor) who advo­cates for research on bear bile alter­na­tives, was given a plat­form in the Chi­nese State Press by the Min­istry of Health.

So, I call upon you and sign the online “End Bear Farm­ing” peti­tion of AA to fur­ther influ­ence Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to do the only proper thing here, for­bid bear farm­ing by law and enforce this law forcefully.

(Sources: NRC, 02.06.2012; TRAF­FIC, 24.08.2012)

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