Market for Bear Bile Threatens Asian Population

As six bears are rescued from illegal bear bile farms, the New York Times reports the continuing demand for bear bile is threatening the bear population in Asia. This comes amid growing public concern for animal rights:

Tigers, rhinos and elephants are notoriously poached to satisfy high demand in Asia for their parts, which are falsely assumed to have medicinal properties. Experts warn that sun bears and Asiatic black bears, known colloquially as ”moon bears,” are on a similar route to endangerment, although their plight draws less media attention. ”No bears are extinct, but all Asian ones are threatened,” said Chris Shepherd, a conservation biologist and deputy regional director of the wildlife trade group Traffic who is based in Malaysia.

Legal farming was conceived as a way of increasing the supply of bile to reduce the motivation for poaching wild bears, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. But there is no evidence that it has done so, it noted in a resolution passed last September, and there is concern among conservationists that it “may be detrimental.”

The resolution also called on countries with legal bear farms to close down the illegal ones, to ensure that no wild bears are added to farms; to conduct research into bear bile substitutes (there are dozens of synthetic and herbal alternatives) and to conduct an independent peer-reviewed scientific analysis on whether farming protects wild bears.

Some groups argue that the increased supply of farmed bile has only exacerbated demand. ”Because a surplus of bear bile is being produced, bile is used in many non-medical products, like bear bile wine, shampoo, toothpaste and face masks,” Animals Asia says. Since bear farming began in China in the early 1980’s, bear bile has been aggressively promoted as a cure-all remedy for problems like hangovers, the group added.

Despite the efforts to curb animal cruelty, China’s zoos are now subject to scrutiny after several animal abuse cases caused by zoo visitors, from The Huffington Post:

A Jan. 19 report from a zoo in Shaoguan City alleges that a 27-year-old man climbed into an ostrich enclosure, then proceeded to bite the bird to death in front of onlookers. The man was later arrested and taken to the hospital, according to The Nanfang.

In early January, visitors to Hangzhou Zoo were caught on camera apparently pelting lions with snowballs.

Days later, zoo workers at the Rural Grand View Garden, located in Shenzen, discovered their crocodile pit had been filled with rocks and trash by visitors attempting to force the hibernating creatures to move. Spectators were also said to have hurled projectiles at the sleeping crocs, reports the Shenzen Evening News. The Nanfang reports most of the crocodiles in the enclosure died as a result.

“For cultural and economic reasons, animal rights awareness is one of those areas where China is still lagging the developed world,” explained Global Post senior Hong Kong correspondent Benjamin Carlson.

After pictures of lions getting pelted with snowballs was put onto Weibo, netizens have responded to the abuses inflicted by zoo visitors, according to China Daily:

They were reposted almost 80,000 times, with thousands of comments left by angry Internet users criticizing the visitors’ behavior.

One user, named “Sina Zhejiang”, said in the post that as some visitors kept throwing snowballs at two lions, they had nowhere to hide and curled up in a corner, shaking.

But the manager said the zoo had no right to fine visitors who abused the animals. What they could do is to call for better treatment of these animals.

Mang Ping, professor with the Central Institute of Socialism, who has studied the welfare of zoo animals since 2003, said abuse of zoo animals by visitors or zookeepers was commonplace in China. But the law cannot protect zoo animals, because the definition on wild animals is not clear.

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