Facts on Bear Bile Farming
What is Bear Bile Farming?
Commercial ‘bear bile farming’ began in China in the 1980’s. It is a cruel farming system designed to extract bile from the gallbladders of living bears.
Previous to this, bears were hunted in the wild for their gallbladder bile, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
By the early 1990’s, there were over 400 bear farms in China alone, containing tens of thousands of suffering bears.
Most farmed bears are kept permanently in cages, sometimes so small that they are unable to turn around or stand on all fours.
Some bears are caged as cubs and never released, with many kept caged for up to 30 years.
Most farmed bears are starved and dehydrated, and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that ultimately kill them.
On bile farms, bears are seen as mere production units, only worth the amount of bile they produce. Animals Asia has also seen instances of old or very sick bears – those who fail to produce bile – simply left to starve to death in their cages.
How is the bear bile extracted?
Bear’s bile is extracted using various invasive techniques, all of which cause severe suffering, pain and infection.
The method claimed to be the most ‘humane’ by bile farmers, is ‘free-drip’ method, where bears undergo surgery to create a permanent open passage from their gallbladder through their abdomen.
The surgery is crude, unhygienic and rarely performed by a veterinarian. This results in many of the bears dying from infections or other complications, and agony for those who do survive.
As the body naturally tries to heal itself, each bile tapping session then involves forcing a metal tube through the wound and scar tissue to reach the bile stored in the bear’s gallbladders.
Other methods include the permanent surgical implantation of a metal or latex catheter which drains the bile straight from the bear’s abdomens.
Some bears are even fitted with ‘metal jackets’. Reminiscent of a medieval style torture device, it is designed to keep bile-draining catheters in place. Heavy and typically rusting, they restrain bears movement using sharp spikes and strips of metal.
Although metal jackets are against regulations in China, many bears have arrived at our rescue centre in Chengdu with clear outlines and indentations which can only be caused by many years confined in a metal jacket.
In 2010, Animals Asia rescued ten bears from a farm in Shandong, many of whom had clearly had their metal jackets removed shortly before our arrival. Incredibly, Oliver, one of the bears rescued from the farm had survived three agonising decades in a full metal jacket.
In Vietnam, bears are commonly routinely drugged and jabbed in the abdomen with a four-inch needle until the gallbladder is found, so that it can be drained of its bile.
Bear Bile & Chinese Medicine
The demand for bear bile is driven by the belief that it has medicinal qualities. Bear bile use is common in traditional Chinese medicine, as well as ordinary household products and cosmetics like shampoo and toothpaste.
Bear bile can even be found in Chinese wine, and ‘bile teas’.
Sold in the form of form of powder, tonic or pills, bear bile is considered to be a ‘cure’ for a range of ailments from acne, hangovers, colds, sore-throats, haemorrhoids, conjunctivitis and even cancer. But it comes at a devastating price for the bears, and many never escape the torture of bear farming.
Despite the availability of inexpensive and effective herbal and synthetic alternatives, and the public health warnings of the dangers of consuming bile from sick bears, bile farming continues.
In 2015, Animals Asia worked with the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine to secure a ban on its members prescribing bear bile by 2020.
Pathology reports have shown that bile from sick bears is often contaminated with, blood, pus, faeces, urine, bacteria and cancer cells.
Demand for bear bile products comes mainly from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan. Bear bile products are also found in Australia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, the US and Canada.
Bear Farming in China and Vietnam
Today it’s estimated that more than 10,000 bears are suffering on Chinese bear bile farms and a further 1,000 in Vietnam.
In China, bear bile farming is legal, and there is almost 100 large scale farms mass harvesting bears for their bile. The largest holds over 2,000 bears.
These large farms are typically owned by major pharmaceutical companies.
Animals Asia has rescued many of bears from cages barely larger than their bodies, where they cannot even turn around.
In Vietnam, bear bile farming has been illegal since 2005, yet a loophole in the law allowed farmers to keep the bears they already owned as ‘pets’.
Many bile farmers have been exploiting this legal loophole for years and extracting bile from bears illegally, behind closed doors.
But recently (July 2017), Animals Asia signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Vietnamese government which sets out a joint plan to eradicate bear bile farming in Vietnam forever.
About Endangered Bears in Asia
Endangered Asiatic black bears, known as ‘moon bears’ due to the distinctive cream coloured crescents on their chests, are the species of beat most commonly used on bear bile farms in China and Vietnam.
However, many sun bears and brown bears are also victims of the bile trade.
Sun bears and moon bears are both critically endangered species, yet they continue to be captured for the bile farming industries, or killed for their body parts.
It is sometimes argued by bile farmers that farming bears helps to conserve the country’s wild populations of endangered sun and moon bears, by reducing the number of bears killed in the wild. Many farms even claim to breed their own bears.
But in reality, most of the bears used in for bile farming are caught from the wild, and many of the bears we rescue are missing limbs from being trapped in the wild in snares, or steel leg hold traps.
Endangered bears in the wild also continue to be killed due to the higher value placed on bile extracted from wild bears.
Bear bile farming also impacts on wild populations, as many nursing mother bears are shot in the wild so their cubs can be stolen and sold to the bile trade.
Every year, Animals Asia rescues wild-caught cubs, confiscated from smugglers en route to farms in Vietnam and neighbouring countries such as Laos and China.
Animals Asia is Rescuing Bears
Animals Asia has been rescuing bears from bile farms for almost 20 years, and campaigns for an end to all bear bile farming in Asia.
We’ve saved just under 700 bears from the abusive bear bile farming industries in Asia. More than any other charity.
Most of the bears we rescue are defeated and broken after many years of abuse. They require many months or even years of extensive veterinary care and rehabilitation.
Animals Asia has two world-class sanctuaries for bears rescued from bile farms. One in China and one in Vietnam.
Sadly, bears used for bile farming cannot be released back into the wild. Most are captured as cubs or young bears and do not have the life skills to be able to survive. Furthermore, most bears we rescue are in very poor health.
But our sanctuaries enable the bears to live out their lives in peace, in the company of other bears.
We do everything we can to provide as natural and interesting an environment as possible where they can climb trees, swim in pools or simply lie on the grass in the sun.
During their rehabilitation at the rescue centres, the bears’ behaviour and well-being are closely monitored by our bear teams through regular health checks and daily observations.
This not only ensures that the bears receive the best care possible, but also enables our staff to gather vital scientific evidence on the physical and psychological effects of bile extraction.
Reports and papers published by our teams have helped to raise the profile of the plight of moon bears within the scientific community and to increase public awareness of the terrible cruelty involved in the bear bile farming industry.
You Can Help Save Endangered Bears from the Cruel Bear Bile Trade
Feeling outraged? So are we. But you can help stop this cruelty! Your support could help rescue gentle moon bears, and care for the victims of bile farming, too.
- Share this page on your social networks using the buttons below.
- Like us on Facebook to follow our LIVE bear bile farm rescue work, and sanctuary stories about once-abused rescued bears.
- Donate. We all have the power to make a difference. Any gift from you, large or small, could change the life of a desperate moon bear forever.