By John R. Platt
The sale of bear bile for use in traditional medicine is rampant throughout 12 Asian countries, despite national and international laws banning or limiting the practice, according to a new report from TRAFFIC International, the wildlife trade monitoring network.
Bile, also known as gall, is a fluid produced in the liver and stored in the gall bladder to help with digestion. Traditional Asian medicine uses bile or gall bladders to “treat” a variety of ailments, including epilepsy, muscle pain, bruises, sore throats, hair loss and hemorrhoids or to “clear” the liver. None of these medicinal claims are supported by science, although one component of bile, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), is used in gastric bypass surgery and to treat liver disease. (The main source of commercial pharmacological UDCA is cows.)
Bear bile has also recently shown up in nonmedicinal products, such as shampoo and wine, according to the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
TRAFFIC found bear bile for sale in traditional medicine outlets in 12 Asian countries, most notably China, Malaysia, Burma (Myanmar) and Vietnam. The bile often originated in China, Japan, Russia and Laos. Some of these bears are raised captivity. Others are caught in the wild and then placed on “farms,” where they are often kept in tiny cages, unable to stand or move while their bile is drained up to three times a day through a catheter or syringe inserted into the gall bladder. Many are kept that way for years, or even a decade. Other bears are killed and their gall are bladders removed. More....