International Herald Tribune
by Rachel Morarjee (Agence France Presse)
submitted by Dr John Wedderburn - email@example.com
CHENGDU, China - One bear was missing a hind leg, two
had lost their front paws, one had no toes and all six bears were in
terrible pain, crushed into tiny cages barely big enough to contain
them. But however bad they looked, these were the lucky ones. The six
black Moon bears were rescued this week from a life of agonizing
captivity being farmed for their bile, and brought to a sanctuary in
southwest China's Sichuan Province in Southwestern China.
Those missing a limb or paw had probably lost them in
snares when they were trapped in the wild, said Jill Robinson, founder
of the Animals Asia Foundation, which runs the bear rescue centre, near
the city of Chengdu.
"When the bears come in, they are very angry." she said.
Small wonder: Kept in cages so tiny they have stripe marks from the bars
on their fur, the bears are "milked" for their bile. The bile is
extracted either through a five to seven inches (13 to 18 centimeters)
long catheter crudely inserted into the bear's gallbladder or through a
small hole in the gallbladder which is never allowed to heal. Their
muscles waste away through lack of use, and many of the emaciated bears
have other medical problems such as ulcerated paws, or teeth cut back so
close to the bone the nerves are exposed.
Bear bile has been used in traditional Chinese medicine
for centuries to treat ailments caused by an excess of heat in the body,
and because bears had to be hunted and killed to extract it, the bile
was for years literally worth more than its weight in gold. But in the
1980s, farmers in China, Korea and Vietnam discovered a way of keeping
the bears alive while extracting their bile, and the practice of bear
Moon bears are an endangered species that inhabits the
forests of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, both in China's southwest, in
Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces to the north-east. There are almost
7,000 bears being farmed for bile in China and around 16,000 to 19,000
living in the wild, Ms. Robinson said.
The practice of farming bears for bile was based on
"good intentions" she said, as authorities hoped it would stop them
being trapped and killed for their precious extract.
However this backfired. Hundreds of farmers rushed into
the trade, creating two tiers of the market for bear bile, with some
people wanting to pay more for product extracted from wild bears and
companies churning out bear bile shampoo and toothpaste in an attempt to
mop up the excess from the farms.
Robinson has been campaigning to end bear farming since
1993 and founded Animals Asia in 1998 to help aid the Moon bears. Around
this time there was a downturn in the overcrowded market for bear bile,
prompting the Chinese government to look for other solutions.
In July 2000, Animals Asia signed an agreement with the
authorities in Beijing and Sichuan to free 500 suffering Moon bears from
the worst farms in China. The agreement pledged to work towards the
final elimination of bear farming, and the government no longer issues
new licenses to bear farms.
Animals Asia pays a compensation fee to farmers in
exchange for freeing their bears, enabling the farmers to begin a new
livelihood. Animals Asia now has 65 bears at its rescue centre and is
working to build a reserve where more bears can be released from
captivity. After years in tiny cages, the Moon bears no longer have the
survival skills to fend for themselves in the wild, as many were born in
captivity or taken from their mothers as cubs.
Once the surgery to remove their catheters is complete
the bears are placed in larger cages to recover, so they don't break
stitches or injure themselves while they recuperate. As the bears put on
weight and are restored to health, they also learn to relax in the
company of people. Rupert, a bear who has been at the centre nearly a
year, leans back in his cage and purses his lips as Robinson feeds him
pieces of apple. Soon, he will be moved to a larger pen with other bears
where he can go outside and wander in a grassy enclosure, and will
eventually live in a natural woodland enclosure which looks like the
forests he might have begun his life in.
Animals Asia does not receive government funding, but
exists via public contributions gathered through its Internet site:
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