The animal welfare group Animals Asia received six bears in China today, after the Sichuan Forestry Department took the animals from an illegal bear bile farm. The two organizations worked together to remove the bears, in a project that highlights the poor treatment of bears that are kept in cages in order to harvest their bile for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
According to Animals Asia, the rescued bears were in very poor condition. Photos show that they had sustained wounds from the cages they’re kept in; one also had severely injured claws.
“If you’ve seen the paws of the bears it’s obvious they haven’t stood on solid ground for years,” the group’s founder and CEO, Jill Robinson, said.
Many of the bears that are kept in confinement for their bile are Asian black bears, often called moon bears, which are classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Animals Asia estimates that more than 10,000 bears are kept on bile farms in China, with about 2,400 more in Vietnam.
Bile bears or battery bears are Asian black bears (Ursus thibetanus) kept in captivity to harvest bile, a digestive juice produced by theliver and stored in the gall bladder. When extracted, the bears’ bile is a valuable commodity for sale as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Bile is usually extracted twice a day through an implanted tube, producing 10–20 mL of bile each time; the process is believed to be painful, as the bears can be seen moaning and chewing their paws while being milked. Other methods include pushing a hollow steel stick through the bear’s abdomen.
The monetary value of the bile comes from the traditional prescription of bear bile by doctors practicing traditional Chinese medicine. Bear bile contains ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), which is believed to reduce fever, protect the liver, improve eyesight, break down gallstones, and act as an anti-inflammatory.
There is no evidence of benefit for traditional medicines derived from bear bile but the high demand has led to the introduction of intensive farming of bears.