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article imageOp-Ed: Bears committing suicide to escape China's bile harvesting farms

By Elizabeth Batt     Feb 4, 2012 in Environment
Louis Ng, director of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society in Singapore (ACRES) recently reported that bears kept on bile farms in China and Vietnam are 'committing suicide' in an attempt to escape their miserable existence.
Ng said he first witnessed a bear wanting to die in 2009, on a visit to a Laotian bile farm. The female bear, one of an estimated 12,000 bears that are kept in captivity in China and Vietnam and milked for their bile, was on the tenth day of a self-imposed hunger strike.
Ng's report is devastating and heartbreaking and portrays humanity at its basest level.
The director told Wildlife Extra, that he discovered the bear motionless in her tiny cage. The owner informed him that she had refused both food and water, so he had placed the bear outside to die. Ng approached the sow cautiously, keeping his distance, just in case. The bear did something unexpected, she gently pushed her paw through the bars.
Ng, felt the bear reaching for him and took her paw in his hand. They remained that way for several minutes. Her eyes he said, were "flooded with both anguish and gentleness". She died the next day, after three years of hell on a bile farm.
"This farm had 29 bears in cages just large enough for them to stand up', Ng said. Driven mad by solitude pain and fear from being milked for their bile on a daily basis Ng explains, means "all you hear when you walk inside is the constant banging of heads against those cages."
It is a familiar scenario, and one that is growing.
Since the 1980s the number of bears farmed in Asia has increased to around 12,000, said ACRES, because the process is an "effective way to meet the demand for ursodeoxycholic acid – the active ingredient in bear bile – which has been used to treat kidney problems and stomach and digestive disorders."
Medically used since the Tang Dynasty in 659 A.D., bears were once killed for their gall bladders which were removed intact, until the 1970s when South Korea introduced a new and more effective method of bile extraction.
According to Animals Asia.org:
"Several shocking techniques for extracting bile have emerged and evolved. All of them, which typically involve the extraction of 50-100ml of bile, are extremely painful."
Four methods used said the organization, involve a variety of catheters. Latex catheters for example, are placed under the skin and attached to the gall bladder. The bile is then extracted through a rubber pipe which exits the skin at the top of the bear's thigh.
Even more invasive is the metal jacket method, which involves a rubber pipe connected to a fluid bag inside a metal box. This box is then attached to a metal jacket that holds it in place under the bear's abdomen.
Five to 7.5 inch metal catheters are also used and surgically implanted, allowing the bears to be milked of bile daily. Finally, two techniques called free-dripping and fake-free dripping, create a permanent hole that allows the bile to drip free, once the farmer has pierced the membrane to allow the bile to escape. This membrane heals itself, and so must be punctured again and again.
Is it any wonder, bears are committing suicide?
Perhaps most shocking, is that China actually has laws on bear farming. Yes, the practice is legal in China and farms are licensed by the government. Even though China prohibits the export of bear bile produced on these farms, illegal trade runs rampant and bile milking continues despite calls from eminent Chinese doctors, who themselves have called for an end to the barbaric practice.
So why does it continue?
As always, money talks, and the demand for bear bile is a global one. According to a 2006 investigative report by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), illegal trade of bear bile products occurs in the USA, Canada, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
"Bear bile was offered at prices ranging from US$3 to US$48 per gram depending on the country", said WSPA and "many of the bear products found on sale were clearly labeled as being from China and in particular its bear farms.
But the preference for wild bear bile remains strong. So strong, that even the American black bear is threatened by illegal capture for its gall bladder and its paws, both of which are used in the traditional oriental medicine trade. This threat further increases when you consider that four US states, ME, VT, ID and WY still allow free trade in bear gallbladders and bile.
Last year, New York passed Assembly Bill 6291/Senate Bill 3858 which in theory, appeared to ban the trade of bear bile within the state. Bush Warriors.org, called the passage of the bill, questionable. "The amendment" they explained, "states that possession, sale, and bartering of bear gall bladders will continue to be permitted, but only if a valid bear tag is attached, certifying the legal harvest and acquisition of the bear the organ came from".
According to Bush Warriors, "earlier this year, executive Vice-President of BornFree USA, Adam Roberts, expressed concern about New York state serving as a laundering point for getting the organs and bile out of the country."
This fact said the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has contributed to significant declines in this century for the "Asiatic black bear and the European and Asian populations of brown bear [...which...] are now considered endangered by most of their range states".
Louis Ng plans to establish a rescue center in Laos with enough space to accommodate 29 bears. The facility will be used to rehabilitate the bears after a life of captivity and is expected to be ready for volunteers by June 2012.
Meanwhile, the end product will continue to justify the barbaric means. That they are endorsed by China's government, makes the practice of bear bile milking appear even more sinister. What century are we living in, when such primitive behavior is still tolerated and unchecked?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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