Using social media and other tools, animal rights activists around the world are urging China to prohibit farmers from keeping bears in captivity and harvesting their bile, a digestive juice stored in the gall bladder that is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The nonprofit group Animals Asia has collected more than 83,000 signatures so far on a petition asking Chinese officials to end the “barbaric practice” of bear bile farming. The foundation said more than 10,000 bears in China are kept in cages – sometimes so cramped that the animals can't turn around or stand – for their entire lives, and that the bile is extracted through painful methods.
The conditions on the farms are documented in YouTube videos.
“This is torture,” a YouTube user named “mogtrader8″ posted after watching that video. “There's no doubt about it.”
The cause has resonated on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking platforms with both individuals, including artists and athletes, and groups like Moon Bear Rescue. (The bears typically used in bile farming are Asiatic black bears, commonly known as moon bears because of the cream-colored crescent moon shape on their chest.)
An animal rights activist in Australia tweeted:
IN A CAGE, WELDED SHUT, FOR LIFE: End Bear Bile Farming In China http://t.co/OAYHuZlGCT PLEASE SIGN/SHARE/RT
— Monica Gilbert (@universalmushie) February 7, 2014
An American environmentalist known as Sprat24 called bear bile farming “despicable” and asked, “Have you seen how these bears live? How could you not help?”
Rescuing moon bears from mistreatment
Animals Asia has been helping moon bears since it was founded in 1998. The foundation has rescued more than 400 animals from bile farms, established bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam, and urged government officials to outlaw the practice.
There are no accurate estimates on the global population of Asiatic black bears; they may number in the tens of thousands. Experts believe the moon bear population is declining. They are not considered endangered, but the species is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
In China, bear bile farming is legal, but only on licensed farms that have at least 50 bears and meet certain standards.
In January 2013, in what became known on Twitter as the #newyearrescue, Animals Asia and China's State Forestry agency rescued six moon bears from an illegal bear bile farm in Sichuan province. The bears, which had injuries and other evidence of mistreatment, were resettled at the foundation's shelter outside Chengdu.
First pics of the rescued bears coming through. No news yet as to their condition #newyearrescue pic.twitter.com/NVhN6Pee
— james walkerr (@wackstar2) January 9, 2013
Hong Kong photographer Peter Yuen recently documented the progress that the rescued bears have made:
What a difference a year makes…
One year on from her rescue, Manuka forages in her habitat without a care in the world.
But rescuing bears one at a time isn't enough, Animals Asia says.;
Petitioning China's US ambassador
In its latest campaign against bear bile farming, the group hopes to garner at least 100,000 signatures on a petition asking China to end the practice entirely. Animals Asia plans to present the petition to Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the United States. The petition reads:
On January 9th 2013, six lucky moon bears arrived at Animals Asia's Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu — the only sanctuary in China built to care for bears rescued from the barbaric practice of bile farming. Battered and broken from their time on an illegal bear farm, these bears are already starting to mend under the expert care of Animals Asia's dedicated vet team.
And while the nightmare is over for these six bears, across China more than 10,000 moon bears remain in tiny cages never feeling the sun on their backs or grass under their feet. They can be kept like this for up to 30 years. This cruel practice continues despite the availability of many effective and affordable alternatives.
Animals Asia applauds the Chinese Government for rescuing these six bears and closing the illegal farm, but the suffering of 10,000 must be made a priority and a firm date set when bear farming will end!
Many of the people who signed the petition added comments. “Cruel and disgusting,” wrote a woman from California (signer No. 82,965).
A women from the Netherlands (signer No. 82,526) posted: “Never believe that animals suffer less than humans do. Pain is the same for them that it is for us.”
“Not all traditions are worth continuing!” stated a resident of British Columbia (signer No. 83,014). “This is an archaic practice that needs to stop.”
The use of bear bile is a centuries-old tradition in Southeast Asia. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine use bear bile to treat hemorrhoids, sore throats, sores, bruising, muscle ailments, sprains, epilepsy, fever and other ailments; some men tout it as aphrodisiac or hangover cure.
Bear bile is used in more than 120 Chinese medicine products, from heart medication to eye drops. Because of the demand, the bile can sell for astronomical prices – up to 24,000 US dollars a kilogram, about half the price of gold.
To obtain the bile, farmers insert a metal tube permanently into the belly of each bear; the animal wears an iron vest to hold it in place. The bile then is extracted two to four times a day.
The active ingredient in bear bile is ursodeoxycholic acid. Scientists disagree on whether it has significant health benefits.
Ursodeoxycholic acid can be obtained from many other sources, such as herbs and synthetic processes. Groups such as Animals Asia, the World League for Protection of Animals and Wildlife Worldwide have been urging practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine to shift from bear bile to alternative sources.
Celebrities support for moon bears
Prominent personalities have spoken out against bear bile farming. They include basketball legend Yao Ming, pop singer Han Hong, movie stars Maggie Q, Karen Mok and others.
Many Chinese celebrities stepped forward to protest bear bile farming in 2011 and 2012 when the pharmaceutical firm Gui Zhentang, which extracts and sells bile, was applying to be listed as a publicly traded company on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.
In the face of the public backlash, Gui Zhentang last year withdrew its application to issue an initial public offering.
Then, last August, animal rights activists scored another victory: As part of Animals Asia's “Healing without Harm” campaign, about 150 Chinese drugstores announced that they would no longer sell bear bile products.
That prompted an outpouring of support for the pharmacies on social media:
China:~ Show your thanks to the Chinese pharmacies who have already pledged to stop selling bear bile products… http://t.co/mdloFwHZPR
— Sofia Goncalves (@SofiaGoncalves) August 29, 2013
On petition website ForceChange, user Judy Thorpe commented:
Bears have suffered for so many years and I cannot express enough praise in your decision for refusing to stock bear bile on your store's shelves. We are now in the modern era and animal abuse will not be tolerated. You have set a positive example by taking stand against bear bile products. Thank-you so very much.
Besides China, South Korea also allows bear bile farming; nearly 1,600 bears are being raised in that country. Vietnam banned the practice in 2005, but Animals Asia says about 2,400 bears still are being illegally raised on bile farms there.
Animals Asia isn't the first group to start a petition against bear bile farming. In 2011, Wildlife World obtained 15,000 signatures on a petition calling on Hu Jintao, then president of China, to close the country's bear bile farms.
If Animals Asia's petition proves unpersuasive, the group has another tactic to get its story across: an interactive storybook for children.
The foundation teamed up with Microsoft and on January 29 launched a website in both English and Chinese to tell the story of the rescued bear Jasper and his buddies.
Wonderful that @Microsoft have launched ‘Exploring Moon Bears’ to raise awareness & help end bear bile farming. https://t.co/bDpqapl4So
— Madeleine Anderson (@TheAgentMaddi) January 30, 2014
A REIGN OF TERROR for animals in Asia. This is absolutly disgusting. The government must be pressured in changing the law. The Olympics should be NOT include coubtries where there is no law against torturing and beating animals to near extinction. Charities spend millions raising awareness on these inhumane acts against beauriful animals. Even the treatment of animals in Russia is cruel yet the 2014 olympics take.place there. These countries need to.understand the extent of thier inhumanity so we must deny them such privilidges. They will never be part of the.modern world.
SAVE THE MOON BEARS FROM.VILE BEAR BILE FARMS
All animals, birds and insects, ALL LIFE have the right to live free in a safe
healthy natural environment free from pollution, harm, abuse, torture and
Animals exist for their own reasons not to be endangered to satisfy
the greed of stupid barbarians and for the profit of greedy
It’s their world too.
The endangering, enslavement, exploitation, imprisonment and degradation, abuse and
murder of animals in the wild, on farms, as beasts of burden, in
rodeos, circuses, zoos and vivisection laboratories, brutalises the
perpetrators and those who witness it and leads to violence towards
Violence towards animals leads to violence towards humans.
Violence breeds violence.
Each and every animal deserves justice in the event that their rights