Thousands of bears are locked up under horrible conditions on bear farms in China. The World Society for the Protection of Animals estimates that approximately 12,000 bears are currently suffering on bear farms around Asia, with an estimated 16,000 left in the wild. While bear bile farming is legal in China, the only procedure permitted to drain bile is the so-called 'free-drip' method whereby a permanent hole is cut into the bear's abdomen for bile to leak through continually. Farmers also often mutilate the bears by breaking their teeth and pulling out their claws in order to prevent potential injury.
Bear bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine to prevent and reduce fever, heat and inflammation and is also believed to have an efficacy of protecting the liver, improving eyesight, and breaking down gallstones. Although some scientific research has indicated that bear bile might work for treating gallstones, no evidence shows any benefits for the other health problems. In addition, over 50 herbal and synthetic substitutes have been proved to have the same medical effect as bear bile and that do not come at the cost of animal suffering.
The long incarceration and torturous extraction method causes many health problems for the bears. The animals suffer from malnutrition, inflamed and bleeding wounds, tumour swellings in the abdominal area, liver cancer, blindness, arthritis, ulcers, and wounds or scars to the face, head, paws and back due to friction caused by containment in small cages. The surgery to enable bile extraction is not performed by veterinarians, resulting in a high mortality rate during surgical operations. About half of all bears caught for their bile end up dying from complications during the procedure. Adding to the misery and discomfort are serious infections and complications stemming from these unsanitary procedures that can potentially kill the bears. If bile is leaked into the abdominal cavity during extraction, the animal can develop and eventually die from peritonitis. However, most of these bears do not last that long, succumbing to bacterial infections caused by the extractions, or starvation and disease.
Their natural behaviour patterns and basic needs are totally dismissed. The cramped conditions inflict mental stress on the animals, resulting in unnatural and stereotypical behavior such as continual shaking of the head, and biting of the cage bars. Many of the animals go crazy from the pain, boredom, and frustration. Mother bears undergo a severe amount of stress, sometimes resorting to eating their own paws or even their own cubs.
There is no documented research to support that keeping bears in confinement will benefit the protection of bears in the wild. In fact, the marketing of bear bile products is fuelling an increase in demand in these products worldwide, which, combined with the low mortality rate on the farms, is resulting in more wild bears being killed. The bear farming industry stimulates the poaching of bears and threatens the wild bear populations globally. Bear farming has also created an adverse example for global bear conservation. Asia's five bear species have suffered from the effects of hunting, placing the bear populations in jeopardy.
The quantities of bile produced are in excess of demand in China – the massive excess of bear bile is instead being used in non-essential non-Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) products. The active constituent in bear bile, UrsoDeoxyCholic Acid (UDCA), can be synthetically created without the use of animals There are perfectly adequate and cheaper synthetic products on the market that contain UDCA. Scholars of TCM have verified that there are at least 50 herbal alternatives that can replace the use of bear bile, which provide better efficacy, higher safety and do not come at the cost of animal suffering.
Live bear bile farming is a cruel industry. Not only does the industry result in horrific amounts of pain for the caged bears, but it is most likely also causing damage to human health. The Chinese authorities should actively discourage bear farming and promote campaigns to support wildlife conservation and animal welfare. The authorities should also undertake a review of conservation laws aimed at protecting bears in the wild and fully enforce appropriate protection measures. The bear farming industry in the remaining provinces of China must be brought to an end as soon as possible.
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