By John R. Platt
At least 1,000 Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) and sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) live in tiny, cramped cages in South Korea, where they are farmed for their gall bladders, which can sell for up to $25,000 or more for use in traditional Asian medicine. Many of these bears are continually drained of the bile from their gall bladders in the years before they are old enough for their organs to be harvested. As I wrote last year, bile and gall bladders are often used to “treat” conditions ranging from epilepsy to hair loss to impotency. These medicinal claims have no scientific backing.
But the days of bear farming in South Korea may be numbered. Many farmers want out of the business, according to a report from the news site Dong-A Ilbo. Bear farmers, facing a shrinking market and nonexistent profits, are pressuring the South Korean government to take the animals off their hands at a cost the government has calculated as up to $88 million. Farmers say the price could be as low as $2.6 million if the government euthanizes most of the bears, but the South Korean Ministry of Environment says that isn’t an option.
So what is driving this change? For one thing, bear farming is immensely unpopular in South Korea. A 2011 poll conducted by the World Society for the Protection of Animals found that 90 percent of South Koreans think bear farming is inhumane and support ending the practice in the country.
Meanwhile, bear farming is incredibly expensive. Under South Korean law, bears cannot be harvested for their gall bladders until they are at least 10 years old. Meanwhile, they each eat about $1,700 worth of food every month. That adds up. Some owners are reportedly turning to the black market to sell their products before the bears are old enough to be legally harvested. More....