Rescuing China’s Bears

As Chinese citizens and celebrities become more vocal on animal rights amid controversies over shark fin soup and the harvesting of bear bile, six bears were rescued from an illegal bear bile farm and handed over to Animals Asia, an animal welfare group. NPR reports the animal rights group worked together with the Sichuan Forestry Department to remove the animals from the farm:

According to Animals Asia, the rescued bears were in very poor condition. Photos show that they had sustained wounds from the cages they’re kept in; one also had severely injured claws.

“If you’ve seen the paws of the bears it’s obvious they haven’t stood on solid ground for years,” the group’s founder and CEO, Jill Robinson, said.

Many of the bears that are kept in confinement for their bile are Asian black bears, often called moon bears, which are classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Animals Asia estimates that more than 10,000 bears are kept on bile farms in China, with about 2,400 more in Vietnam.

Bear bile has been harvested for its use in traditional medicine. Despite the Chinese government’s crackdown on illegal bear bile farming, the practice is not against the law if the proper licenses are in hand, from The Irish Times:

“It’s hard to tell if the situation is getting better or worse,” said Ms Robinson.

“In Vietnam it’s illegal and the number of bears has reduced from 4,000 to 2,400. Today in China there are a minimum of 10,000 in bear bile farms. The positive thing in China is the rise in public outrage about bear-bile farming. At one stage it was the second-most searched term after Jeremy Lin.”

Monica Bando, senior vet at the centre, said bears are extremely stoical animals, and that is part of their problem.

“They can withstand an extreme amount of pain that no other animal would be able to withstand, without necessarily showing clinical signs. That stoicism works against them, because the farmers and the pharmaceutical companies say they are not in pain,” said Ms Bando.

Although some claim that harvesting bile is a painless procedure, according to the International Herald Tribune, the harvesting process can be very painful:

Rendezvous readers have debated passionately about bear bile farming before. It’s common in China and Vietnam, where it is illegal. While the Chinese government is taking action against some bear farms, it’s not illegal here if farms have licenses for it. About 10,000 bears are believed to be caged for their bile in China and a couple thousand in Vietnam. It’s a lucrative trade, with bile prized by the Chinese traditional medicine industry for a range of cures. As my former colleague, Mark McDonald, summed it up:

Your consensus, readers, was that it’s a horrific practice, despite arguments made by the Chinese traditional medicine industry that bile farming is “humane,” as Fang Shuting, the head of the Chinese Association of , said: “The process of extracting bear bile is like turning on a tap: natural, easy and without pain,’’ Mr. Fang said. “After they’re done, the bears can even play happily outside. I don’t think there’s anything out of the ordinary! It might even be a very comfortable process!”

As Mark wrote: “Wildlife biologists vehemently disagree, saying the needle sticks, catheterization and repeated draining of the gall bladder creates infections and leakage, which can lead to peritonitis and septicemia. ‘An excruciating death,’ said one scientist.”

Revulsion is growing among ordinary Chinese, too. “I don’t believe it at all that extracting bile is as easy and comfortable as Fang said. Why doesn’t he extract the bile from his body in the same way to prove it?” one wrote on Sina Weibo, the microblog site, Mark reported.

For updates on the rescued bears, see also Animal Asia’s twitter feed @animalsasia.

Read more about animal rights in China, via CDT.



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