NGO in Special
Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United
China bear bile industry exposed
BEIJING--Some of the black bears at the Dianchuan and Dianye bile factories in China's southwestern Yunnan province gnawed at their own paws to relieve the pain.
Others in the cramped cages were not so lucky, having had their teeth and claws sawed off so they would not hurt their minders.
Cramped, ill and in agony, hundreds, possibly more than 1,000, endangered black bears got good news when Chinese journalists uncovered two illegal bear bile factories where they were milked for their bile for use in Chinese medicine, state television said on Monday.
Footage of one factory filmed by undercover reporters aired on China Central Television (CCTV) on Monday, showing the bears in small cages with surgically implanted tubes and valves for collection of bile.
"This valve is just like a bicycle valve, there is a spring in it. If you pull the spring down, the bile dribbles out, and if you pull it up it stops," the unidentified director of the factory said.
"The bear is used to it."
Yet the footage showed bears yelping in pain as keepers extracted the bright green liquid, which has been harvested for thousands of years in Asia and is believed to be useful in treating fever, liver illnesses and sore eyes.
At the second factory, the bears have their teeth and claws removed so they are not a threat to their handlers.
"All their teeth have been sawed off. The teeth were quite long before we sawed them off. We cut off the claws, so you can't see them now," an unidentified bear keeper at Dianye Factory said.
Bear bile farms began in the 1980s in Asia after North Korea developed the method of bile tapping with catheters. China quickly adopted the practice thinking it would reduce the number of bears killed in the wild for their bile.
The industry in China mushroomed in the early 1990s when the number of captive bears hit 10,000 in 480 bear farms.
It was also then that bear bile prices rocketed to $2,400 per kg. With the advent of synthetic bear bile and greater awareness of the inhumane method of harvesting, the price has since plunged to 2,000 yuan per kg, according to some reports.
However, the China Daily reported in August last year that one restaurant sold bear bile for 1,800 yuan per 100 ml. The paper said collecting bile from live bears had been banned by the Chinese Government and that black bears were protected by the Chinese Wildlife Protection Law.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners say there are herbs that serve the same purposes as bear bile, which is drawn from their gallbladders up to twice a day.
And animal rights activists have been up in arms over the squalid and
inhumane conditions in the illegal factories.
The surgery on the bears, often with unsterilised equipment, often leads to chronic infections, some have said.
The London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), said bears living in cramped cages or metal crates suffer from sores, bone deformities, bad food, poor hygiene and poor veterinary care.
The group launched a campaign in May protesting China's bid for the 2008 Olympics, saying its animal welfare record, particularly the prevalence of horrific bear bile farms, should disqualify the country.
In July, China won the right to host the games.
(Tuesday, December 04, 2001
WHEN rescuers whisked away 17 moon bears from lucrative Chinese bile farms last week to a new refuge facility in their native south-west China, some had wounds weeping bile and puss and needed life-saving surgery.
Three with inoperable tumours were put to sleep by the Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Sichuan, ending lives spent in tiny cages with surgically implanted catheters milking bile from their gall bladders.
"Their condition was beyond belief," animal activist Jill Robinson told reporters visiting the centre. "They have appalling physical and mental problems."
The Asiatic black bears, called moon bears for the golden crescent of fur ringing their chests, are captured in the wild or bred in farms for green bile used in traditional Chinese medicine.
It hurts so much when bile is extracted that some animals gnaw at their own flesh to relieve their pain.
More than 80 bears, rescued with the help of local officials since the centre began operating in 2000, are now housed in the refuge built by the Hong Kong-registered Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) at Longqiao, in the suburbs of the Sichuan capital Chengdu.
After months of recovery, bears can be seen roaming around a grass enclosure, playing with toys designed to spark instinctive behaviour suppressed in bile farms.
Bear bile farms began spreading in Asia in the 1980s after development of the new method of tapping bile with catheters.
Chinese farmers, which had killed bears for their gall bladders for thousands of years, adopted the practice because bears produced more bile alive than dead.
The Chinese authorities, which at first endorsed bear farms as a way of protecting bear populations in the wild, has now begun to crack down on them but has yet to ban them.
The Asiatic black bear is recognised by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as an endangered species.
The Longqiao centre opened after an agreement in 2000 between the AAF, the Sichuan forestry department and the state-endorsed China Wildlife Conservation Association to rescue 500 bears from farms and work towards ending bear farming for good.
Bear bile farms have proliferated across China, where people consume thousands of kg of the bitter liquid every year to treat ailments such as soaring temperatures and liver problems, rather than take herbal or synthetic substitutes.
Sichuan authorities have closed down 35 of the farms and issued no new licences since 1994, the AAF said in a statement.
(Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Asiatic black bears are also farmed for bile in South Korea - see http://www.moonbears.org/