By Lindsey Blomberg
Last Thursday, Animals Asia, an organization devoted to the welfare of wild and urban animals in Asia, reported that six bears rescued this past January from an illegal bear bile farm in China have each undergone successful surgery to remove their damaged gall bladders.
Bear bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat gallstones, liver problems and other ailments. To produce this remedy, bears are forced to live on “bile farms”, where they are cramped into confined cages that allow them little or no movement so that their gall bladders can be drained of bile twice a day. According to Animals Asia, some bears are put into cages as cubs and kept there for up to 30 years. Hundreds of thousands of farmed bears throughout Asia are starved, dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumors that ultimately kill them. In turn, conservation and wildlife groups warn that populations of sun bears and Asiatic black bears, also known as moon bears, could be facing extremely dire long-term consequences.
‘‘No bears are extinct, but all Asian ones are threatened,’’ said Chris Shepherd, a conservation biologist and deputy regional director of the Malaysia-based wildlife trade group TRAFFIC, a joint project of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Worldwide Wildlife Federation. In just the last few years, bear poaching has increased in Indonesia, says Dr. Gabriella Fredriksson, a conservation biologist who has been in the region for 15 years.
‘‘Fifty years ago, bears were doing well in Cambodia and Laos,’’ Fredriksson said. ‘‘Now there’s hardly any left.’’
The 2011 TRAFFIC report Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The Bear Bile Trade in Asia found bear bile products on sale in Chinese traditional medicine outlets in twelve of the thirteen Asian countries surveyed. The study further noted that the vast majority of the bear farms surveyed in Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam did not have captive breeding programs, suggesting they depend on bears captured from the wild. More....