January 2003
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Unbearable Cruelty
By Natasha B., Grade 12, Fredericton High, Fredericton, NB

A tiny iron cage, too small to allow him to stand up or lie down, a young Asiatic black bear is huddled in agony. His stomach is permanently oozing thick, yellow bile from an open wound.

Each day, a metal tube will be forcibly inserted through the wound into his gall bladder and he will be systematically milked of his bile, which will be used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), cosmetics, wine and even shampoo. To prevent him from lashing out at his torturers, he is forcibly restrained in a crude iron body harness or squeezed into a very small cage.

He's not the only one. In bear farms across China, thousands of bears are kept in such unspeakable conditions. Often taken from the wild, the best they can hope for is a swift death from the pain and shock of the initial operation that opens their gall bladder. If they are unfortunate enough to survive, they are condemned to five to ten years of torment before their bile dries up and they are simply abandoned, left to die alone of starvation or disease.

For the past 3,000 years, TCM has prescribed derivatives of bear gall bile for medicinal purposes. Bear bile contains an active constituent who on ingestion is believed to reduce fever and inflammation, protect the liver, improve eyesight and break down gallstones. For the last twenty years, the marketing of and resulting demand for bile products has led to the introduction of intensive farming of these wild animals.

The method of extracting bile, or milking differs between farms, but in all cases, an opening is surgically made through the abdominal area into the gall bladder. A tube is then inserted to tap the bile, or a steel stick is forced through to the gall bladder so that the bile can run down into a basin below. On most farms, the surgery is performed by farm owners with no veterinary training. There are now officially 247 bear farms across China, housing an estimated total of 2,000 bears.

While TCM utilizes a total of 500 kg of bear bile every year, over 7,000kg is now being produced, with a majority feeding a demand for products such as wines, tonics and eye drops.1999 and 2000, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) conducted one of the most comprehensive inspections of Chinese bear farms undertaken.

WSPA inspectors found that conditions represent the worst examples of factory farming. On average, the cages were so small that the bears could hardly move, sit up or even turn around. At every farm, bears could be seen with scars to the face, head, paws and back because of the friction caused by containment. During "milking", investigators witnessed signs of severe distress in every bear. Moaning and banging of heads against the cage was common, where some were seen to chew on their own paws. One farm in Yingin, bears that were obviously sick lay recumbent without movement. A constant stream of bile seeped from the stomachs of other bears where an opening had been made into their gall bladders. These practices are nothing less than medieval. Not only are they cruel, but they are pointless. There are many highly effective herbal and synthetic alternatives to bear bile on the market.

Chinese practitioners state that there are at least 75 herbal alternatives that can replace the use of bear bile, however, the Chinese government still refuses to put an end to the suffering and ban bear bile farms for good.

World Society for the Protection of Animals


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