By: Jenny R. Isaacs
In the forests of Asia, bears are being captured. These captives will be sent to bear farms, most unregulated and illegal, where they will be kept alive in a small cage, locked away for life. Their bodies will be used as renewable natural resources, from which profit will be made through the extraction of internal organs and fluids. By surgically inserting a permanent catheter into the bears' gall bladders, "farmers" extract several ounces of their bile. In a cycle of exploitation across east Asia, traditional medicine shops receive these daily shipments of bear bile products, while consumers support the industry through the purchase of these products, sustaining a supply-and-demand chain that puts more and more bears in cages as wild populations dwindle.
"While bear conservation is a global concern, the hotspot is definitely Asia where poaching, trade, and demand are greatest," says Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC Deputy Regional Director in South-East Asia, who is working to break the bile product supply-and-demand cycle which is built on the illegal capture and exploitation of already endangered bears. He and his team are dedicated to investigating and interrupting the many links of the bear bile commodity chain as it snakes across Asia; from the many still-wild places where bears are captured, to the bear-processing farms where products are harvested, to the shelves of traditional medicine shops, and into their final destination: the bodies of human consumers.
Shepherd explained to mongabay.com that TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, plays an essential role in stopping wildlife crime as it "investigates the nuts and bolts behind the trade, and works to see action is taken to tackle the illegal trade, and ultimately to reduce demand for threatened/illegal species."
As the leading author of a recent TRAFFIC report, "Pills, Powders, Vials and Flakes: the bear bile trade in Asia," Shepherd hopes to educate the world to what he calls the "horrendous" practice and industry of bear farming and bile extraction.
Three species of bears are harvested for their bile: The Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), otherwise known as the moon bear; the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus); and the brown bear (Ursus arctos). Both the Asiatic black and bear and the sun bear are listed as Vulnerable on IUCN Red List.
"Few know much about these species and even fewer are doing anything to solve the conservation problems both species face. Valiant efforts by a number of committed individuals and organizations to address the welfare issues in the horrendous bear bile farming are underway, but few conservation organizations have taken on bears as species in need of attention," Shepherd says. More....