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At present, around 7,000 Asiatic black bears — known as Moon bears because of the distinctive white crescent on their chest — spend most of their lives locked in tiny cages being 'milked' of the bile used in traditional Chinese medicine.


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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

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In recent years, the danger of using bear bile has continually been highlighted by the medical community in both China and Vietnam. In 2008, Dr Wang Sheng Xian, a Chengdu-based Chinese pathologist, warned about the use of bear bile being harmful to people. At the same time, Dr Dang van Duong, Chief Pathologist at the Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi said he was shocked by the condition of the bears used for bile extraction and urged consumers to think twice before taking bear bile. Click here to read the full report. More recently, in 2010, reports of poisoning caused by bear bile surfaced and medical professionals again warned against its use — Experts warn against the use of bear bile. Vietnam’s highest-ranking traditional medicine practitioner has repeatedly warned consumers to stop taking bear bile products or risk liver and kidney damage – even death. Dr Nguyen Xuan Huong joined Animals Asia’s campaign to end bear bile farming after seeing the shocking effects of bile consumption on some of his patients, including two government officials who died after taking bear bile tonics: Warning, bear bile tonics can kill. Animals Asia report (September 2011)

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“The Chinese media has reported on an extraordinary account of a mother bear saving her cub from a life of torture by strangling it and then killing itself. The bears were kept in a farm located in a remote area in the North-West of China. The bears on the farm had their gall bladders milked daily for 'bear bile,' which is used as a remedy in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It was reported that the bears are kept in tiny cages known as 'crush cages', as the bears have no room to manoeuvre and are literally crushed. The bile is harvested by making a permanent hole or fistula in the bears' abdomen and gall bladder. As the hole is never closed, the animals are suspect to various infections and diseases including tumours, cancers and death from peritonitis. The bears are fitted with an iron vest, as they often try to kill themselves by hitting their stomach as they are unable to bear the pain. A person who was on the farm in place of a friend witnessed the procedures and told Reminbao.com that they were inhumane. The witness also claimed that a mother bear broke out its cage when it heard its cub howl in fear before a worker punctured its stomach to milk the bile. The workers ran away in fear when they saw the mother bear rushing to its cub's side. Unable to free the cub from its restraints, the mother hugged the cub and eventually strangled it. It then dropped the cub and ran head-first into a wall, killing itself.” Asia One news report (5th August 2011)

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3 min 53 secs video segment giving insights into the bear bile trade in Vietnam. (2nd June 2011)

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Despite significant campaigns to raise awareness about the abuse of bears in an effort to collect and sell their bile for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, a new report from TRAFFIC International, a global wildlife trade monitoring network, reveals the sale of bear bile is still rampant in at least twelve Asian countries. This despite both national and international laws that either ban or limit the practice, according to a report by Scientific American. (23rd May 2011)

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“Currently, animal activists across China are up in arms because Gui Zhen Tang Pharmaceutical Corporation, a Fujian-based company that sells bear bile for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), has tried to increase production through an initial public offering (IPO). The company is being accused of cruelty towards animals in the process of extracting their bile at an industrial scale. Bear bile, or Xiong Dan, is an important ingredient in TCM…The globalization of TCM has lead to a dramatic increase in the demand for bear bile along with other traditional remedies. Bear bile is sold in Asian apothecaries throughout the world in the form of powder, solution or pills. It is likewise the key ingredient in many Asian “patent medicines” used for tapeworm, childhood nutritional impairment, hangovers, colds, and even cancer. Bear bile is even found in Chinese throat lozenges, shampoo, wine, and tea. Overall, the worldwide trade in bear parts, including bile, is estimated to be a $2 billion industry…Animal activists posing as potential clients report that the caged bears moan, writhe in pain, and clutch their stomachs as the bile drains from their bodies. Sometimes the bears try to pull out the catheters. Those that succeed are immobilized in an iron corset. Under-nourished and highly stressed from horrific pain and unnatural confinement, the bears lie in agony, in their own filth. According to Jeanette McDermott, bile is not the farmers’ only source of profit from the bears. Some farmers amputate one or two paws from live bears to sell to restaurants. When bears are no longer able to secrete bile, they are left to die from sickness or starvation. Bears might endure this torture for up to 25 years, making their lifetime a reality of suffering and pain in the name of “natural” and “traditional” medicine…As I wrote his article, I was overwhelmed with rage, and repulsed not only by the horrific images of the animal holocaust in Asia, but also by the enormous hypocrisy of the proponents of TCM, who effectively claim that pus-infested bear bile, and the by-products of animals tortured, disfigured, and dismembered in the name of the“natural” are better, safer, and “gentler” than synthetic pharmaceuticals.” Ben Kavoussi, Science Based Medicine (24th March 2011)

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“One of China's largest producers of bear-bile is facing an unprecedented online backlash from angry members of the Chinese public following reports it was planning to list on a local stockmarket…China's public has traditionally been unmoved by animal welfare issues, however animal rights campaigners say the furious reaction to Gui Zhen Tang's listing is evidence that attitudes are changing…Opponents of the practice say that bear-farming, which involves milking the greenish bear bile for use in everything from hair regrowth shampoos, to bear-wine virility tonics and haemorrhoid cures is desperately cruel…China still does not have any animal welfare legislation on its statute books, making it impossible to prosecute for cruelty against animals, however a law is currently being drafted and debated through China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress.” The Telegraph (15th February 2011)

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Colour photographs of bile extraction techniques. (Animals Asia website)

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“While bear bile farming is legal in China, using metal jackets, which crush the bear’s torso, and catheters to drain bile are against regulations. The only procedure permitted is the so-called humane, 'free-drip' method whereby a permanent hole (fistula) is cut into the bear’s abdomen for bile to leak through continually…These jackets are designed to restrain the bears, with sharp metal spikes poking into their necks to stop them bending their heads, and straps and strips of metal restricting their limb movements. They also have a permanent catheter running from the bear’s abdomen to a pouch under the jacket to make bile removal easy for the farmer. These contraptions are no better than medieval torture devices and inflict enormous pain and permanent damage on the bear.”

Animals Asia website [Includes graphic colour photographs.]

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“Despite increasing international outrage, extracting bile from endangered black bears is still rife in south-east Asia.”

Daily Telegraph (19th August 2010)

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"Imagine waking up day after day inside a cage so small that you cannot stand up in it, or even sit down or crouch on all fours. You wake up and eliminate your wastes, which you inevitably end up wallowing in all day as it covers your body and eventually dries into a crusty mess. You look to your left and see others just like you lined up in cage after cage. You look to your right and you see someone advancing toward you with a long, slender tube in one hand and a syringe with a long needle in the other. You know they are coming for you, just like they did last time. You know what they are about to do to your body, but you’re unable to escape your imprisonment to flee the pain they will inflict. You do not understand why they are doing this, but they do. They are using your body organs to make money. This is the life that perhaps as many as 13,000 Asiatic Black Bears (also called Moon Bears because of their half-circle chest blaze) endure on a life-long basis in Asian countries like China and Vietnam."

Bush Warriors blogspot (17th August 2010) [Includes photos and video footage.]

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"...bears are caged for decades and treated barbarically as they’re milked of their bile, which has medicinal properties. Convincing farmers to give up the lucrative practice and their livestock is not an easy task..."  

Post Magazine (June 2010) [Includes graphic colour photographs.]

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"There are officially about 7,000 bear farms in China, but groups suspect the actual number to be higher. 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, who are considered an endangered species.  The active ingredient in bear bile, UDCA, can be synthetically created without the use of animals.”

News report (May 2010)

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Jill has proven that her passion for protecting animals is relentless, she shares that there are many things we as consumers can do to support Animals Asia and the animals:
“We are killing this world and its species, breath by breath and this should compel us to make some changes for the benefit of all. Be a compassionate shopper and consumer. Consider your purchases wisely and don't buy fur, ivory, reptile skin, or Chinese medicine products containing any animal parts. Check in every shop that your purchases are ‘cruelty free’.  Don’t visit circuses or zoos that have performing wild animals - all you will learn from such cruel and demeaning performances are the size, shape and colour of the animals as they are led out for the only exercise they will see in the day.  Once you leave, majestic tigers, elephants, bears and primates are caged and chained and prevented from engaging in any of the natural characteristics and behaviour they would exhibit in the wild. Think of where they would rather be - whipped and beaten into performing degrading tricks, or leading their natural lives in the wild.  As we continue rescuing more bears, obviously our costs will rise, so another urgent priority is fundraising. This is the best way people can help – either giving whatever they can afford, or joining one of our support groups to help raise funds. Even just telling everyone they know about the moon bears’ suffering and directing them to our website would be an enormous help,” Jill says.

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This charity, which has supporters in powerful positions in government, has won the right to accompany officials when they carry out farm inspections which allows them to expose some of the worst offenders. The charity which has 230 staff worldwide, needs about £50,000 per month to survive, the bulk of which comes from donations.

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Almost half of the bears rescued recently from horrendous conditions on Chinese bile farms have died. They were brought to the Animals Asia rescue centre in Chengdu in the Sichuan Province founded 10 years ago by Briton Jill Robinson but many were past help. "They all needed abdominal surgery and were grossly underweight at about 50 kilos when they should weigh 150 kilos. Some of these animals had been kept on the farms for 20 years and had no teeth or claws," said Robinson on a fund-raising tour of the UK. "Ten of the bears died within 11 days and post-mortems showed most of them were suffering from liver cancer probably caused by the catheters inserted into their stomachs to drain the bile. One bear was covered in puncture marks as though the farmer knew he was dying and wanted to extract every last drop of bile before he died." Jill Robinson also warns consumers that the bile extracted from some of the terminally ill bears may pose a threat to human health. "When it emerges it is like black sludge and is tainted by the puss associated with the liver cancer that many bears develop. Doctors who have seen it say they would never take it themselves."

The Telegraph (18th June 2008)