Life of Confinement and Pain
Under an agreement between China and Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), 500 captive bears in China’s central Sichuan province will be rehabilitated and placed in a sanctuary in Ziyang city over the next five years, Huang said.
“As one can expect, the living conditions in these farms are often disturbing. Therefore there is a pressing need for us to rescue the bears from these farms,” Huang told reporters.
The program will be extended to other parts of China over the next 10 years.
The practice came to light in 1993 after AAF founder Jill Robinson found bears incarcerated in tiny cages in bear bile farms in China’s Sichuan province. The bears had been there since they were cubs.
Many were lying stomach down in cages barely high enough for them to raise their heads and spent their waking hours biting the iron grills or banging their heads against them.
Surgically implanted with catheters, the bears are kept in the prone position so bile can be extracted twice a day, or 50 millilitres each time.
Bile bears, sometimes called battery bears, are bears kept in captivity to harvest their bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, which is used by some traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.
Why do Bile Farms exist?
Ursodeoxycholic acid, what we call “ursodiol,” is one of the bile acids produced by the Chinese black bear and it has been used in the treatment of liver disease for centuries. Nowadays, however, it is produced in the laboratory rather and not extracted from bear gall bladders.
Ursodeoxycholic acid is a chemical called a bile acid. It occurs naturally in bile and can be used to dissolve gallstones. The liver produces bile, which is then stored in the gall bladder. Bile is released by the gall bladder to aid the digestion of fats. It consists of cholesterol dissolved within bile salts.
It looks like China is about to abolish this type of bear bile farming.
China pledged today to rescue 500 bears held in cages for their bile as a first step in wiping out the age-old practice, Chinese researchers and Western activists said.
Bile is extracted for its healing powers and ending the practice means the rare Asiatic black bears will be freed from a life trapped in tiny cages, Huang Jian Hua of the China Wildlife Conservation Association said.
The 500 are among 7,000 captive bears on 247 bear bile farms in China, Huang said.
Bear bile has been harvested for thousands of years in Asia and is believed to be useful in treating fever, liver illnesses and sore eyes. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners say there are herbs that serve the same purposes as bear bile.
Bear bile does have medicinal uses but there are cruelty-free alternatives
Bear bile has been used in traditional Asian medicine for thousands of years. It contains high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) known to be useful for treating liver and gall bladder conditions. However, there are now many readily available herbal and synthetic alternatives with the same medicinal properties. Traditional medicine practitioners agree, nobody’s health will suffer due to a lack of bear bile.
In the past bear bile would be obtained by hunting bears in the wild and killing them to remove their gall bladder. It would have been a particularly rare and prized ingredient at the time used sparingly for specific medical conditions. In the 1980s however, bear bile farming began to be practiced as a way of constantly extracting bile for the duration of a bear’s life. Today more than 12,000 bears are believed to be kept on bear bile farms in China and Vietnam.