Click this link to view an excellent YouTube created mid 2011. AAF founder Jill Robinson walks you through the Chengdu Bear Rescue Centre while recounting the journey of AAF and its mission to rescue Moon Bears. Please take the time to watch this. It is heartfelt, and yes some early images are distressing but it doesn’t show you gruesome pictures!
The video takes you through the life of a bear once it is rescued, the steps towards recovery and rehabilitation. It’s beautiful – you will smile while your eyes glisten!
And Jill’s very moving TEDX talk (and slide show) @ Pearl River Hong Kong in 2011 recounting Animals Asia journey since 1998.
Many of the facts on this page have been compiled from the Animals Asia website which contains extensive information, including veterinarian reports and reports to government on bear farming in Asia. I encourage you to visit their website to become more informed and active on behalf of the bears.
In countries across Asia, thousands of bears live a life of torture imprisoned in cages on bear farms, so that their bile can be regularly extracted for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The Asiatic black bear (aka Moon Bear)
Asiatic black bears are affectionately called Moon bears because of the beautiful yellow “crescent moon” found on the bears’ chests. They are typically 4-6 feet tall with thick, shaggy fur and big round ears. Weighing 140-200 kg, males grow to around twice the size of females, which weigh 60-130 kgs in the wild. Their strong claws enable them to climb trees with ease and they are strong swimmers.
Moon bears are found right across the Asian continent from Iran to Japan. It is estimated that there are as few as 16,000 left in the wild, worldwide. They prefer heavily forested areas, often living at high altitude, and their territories are estimated at between 4-8 miles. Moon bears tend to be solitary dwellers in the wild, with a usual lifespan of 25 -30 years. Although classified as carnivores, they follow an omnivorous diet.
Moon bears make dens in hollow logs and caves, and also sleep in trees. Depending on their range they may hibernate during winter. Females give birth to twins in April or May and although weaned by 4-6 months, the cubs stay with their mothers for their first two years
Moon bears are highly intelligent and have a large vocabulary, making clucking sounds during play, “tut-tut-tut” sounds when cautious and huffing sounds when warning or about to attack. Females are more vocal than males.
Vile Bile Facts
Bear bile has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for over 3000 years. In the 1980s the bear farming industry was set up to farm bears more intensively, originally to reduce the number of bears poached from the wild. However, it is actually feared that bear farming is causing a decline in wild populations in China and across Asia as the bear farming industry stimulates demand. Bears caught illegally by poachers and sold to farms are often missing limbs from being caught in traps.
The active ingredient in bear bile, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), is more abundant in bears than in any other animal. However, modern Chinese medical practitioners stress that all bear bile products can be easily replaced by herbal or synthetic alternatives, which are cheaper, more readily available and just as effective.
Tragically, because the market has been saturated with bear bile, many farmers have now turned to producing non-essential products, such as throat lozenges, shampoo, wine and tea, in order to utilize the surplus. These products have no known health benefit, but allow the farmer to continue making a profit by exploiting the trusting minds of naive consumers.
The majority of the bears are confined in “crush”cages that provide insufficient space to allow them to turn around, sit up or even lie down properly. Many have their claws hacked off or pulled out, and their teeth smashed to prevent injury to farm workers. Self-harming behaviour by the bears, including head bashing and limb chewing, is evidence of their desperate attempts to escape their pain and confinement. Withholding of food and water from the bears until their bile is to be collected is commonly used as an inducement to gain their co-operation.
The Chinese use extremely painful procedures for the extraction of bile, often carried out by untrained technicians. It causes immense and prolonged suffering to the bears. In 1996, the Chinese government introduced new regulations whereby the “free-dripping” technique is the only permitted method of bile extraction. This method involves surgery to create an open hole or fistula in the abdomen. Bile is collected by inserting a rod through the fistula towards the gall bladder, which then drains its contents. To prevent the fistula from closing up the wound must be constantly re-opened – usually once or twice a day.
While this is promoted as “humane” and appears more aesthetically pleasing than a metal catheter implant, Animals Asia’s investigations and veterinary assessments show that this technique is as inhumane, if not more so, than the older (catheter) methods and causes a high mortality rate on the farms. Bears are still suffering and dying from the unimaginable pain and infection caused by the free-dripping method, and autopsies reveal high incidence of liver and other organ cancers.
In Vietnam the method used to extract bile is different but no less detrimental to the health of the bears. The extraction is undertaken with the assistance of an ultrasound machine, catheter and medicinal pump. The bears are drugged, restrained with ropes and (if the operator is unskilled) have their abdomens repeatedly jabbed with four-inch needles until the gall bladder is found. The process can lead to leakage of bile into the body and often results in a slow and agonizing death from peritonitis.
If all the above wasn’t unbearable enough, bears frequently end up on the restaurant menu. Bears stop producing bile between the ages of five to ten years old when they will often be left to die or are slaughtered for their paws or gall bladders. In Asia, bear paws are still seen as a delicacy and can be found on restaurant menus for a few hundred dollars, along with bear bile wine. Cubs too young to produce adequate quantities of bile may also be slaughtered for their whole gall bladders and paws.
Or they continue to endure the horrific life in their miserable cages until they start producing bile again….a truly horrific life…
To read a detailed (and confronting) report about the horrendous effect bear-bile farming has on the health of bears, AAF_VetReport. Be warned this article has graphic pictures.
Watch the following short videos to learn more about AAF’s work to save bears. There are some confronting images.
Animals Asia to the Rescue
In a major breakthrough in July 2000, and after many years of committed work by Jill Robinson, Animals Asia signed an agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA), a division of the State Forestry Administration, to rescue 500 bears from the worst bear farms in Sichuan Province and to construct a sanctuary where these animals can safely and happily live out the remainder of their lives. A similar agreement has been reached with Hanoi Central Forestry Department in Hanoi to rescue 200 bears.
As a result of this agreement, Animals Asia is working with the Chinese and Vietnamese authorities to free the bears, build rescue centres, reduce the number of farms, improve the lives of those bears that remain, and promote the abundant cruelty-free, non-endangered herbal and synthetic alternatives to bear bile.
Following the international exposure of this cruel industry, Chinese officials claimed that by January 2008 China had closed more than 400 bear farms, leaving only 68. However the total number of bears on farms remained the same – officially more than 7,000 although Animals Asia fears the figure to be much higher– around 10,000.
Most importantly the long-term goal of Animals Asia’s agreement with the Chinese authorities is the total elimination of bear farming.