years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
Animals Asia is once again helping to fund an important study into the population of wild Asiatic black bears (moon bears) in Sichuan Province, recently approving a grant of US$6,000.
The ongoing study was launched in July 2005, when a team of international and Chinese researchers began mapping the range of moon bears in Sichuan. Animals Asia previously awarded a grant of US$6,000 towards the survey, which is being conducted by several prominent international researchers, including Dr Bill McShea (Smithsonian's National Zoological Park/Wildlife Conservation Society), Dave Garshelis (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources), Zhu Xiaojian and Wang Dajun (Peking University) and Gong Jien (CITES).
We believe that this survey is an important milestone in Asiatic black bear conservation, particularly as it is the first study of its kind. The researchers have divided the province into 15 sq km cells and selected 372 cells with over 20% forest coverage for the survey. The survey area covers cells in the middle mountainous area of Sichuan.
The researchers are using a combination of local interviews and signs (mainly claw marks on trees and the presence of scats) to obtain data on detection/non-detection of bears within the selected cells. Previously employing the services of a sniffer dog to detect bear scats, which helped determine diet and numbers through DNA analysis, human researchers have now taken over this role. The project team plans to increase local awareness of the ecological needs and management concerns of bear species within China by conducting interviews with local villagers and reserve staff.
In 2005 and 2006, the team concentrated on areas in the eastern part, in areas close to Sichuan basin where the road conditions are good and the logistics easy to handle. In early April 2007 one team began working in the southern part and one in the western part of Sichuan – both remote rural areas.
Our own work in Sichuan Province is based on more than a decade of research that includes countless interviews and meetings with bear farmers, Chinese officials, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and vendors dealing in bear parts; lectures and discussions at conferences; and thousands of hours of working with the bears that arrive at our bear rescue centre from Chinese bear bile farms. We have also visited more than 50 bear farms throughout China, Vietnam and South Korea. More than half of these visits were in response to official invitations from the respective governments.
An important finding of our investigations is the severe shortage of high-quality scientific data about wild bear populations in Asia. The Chinese Government first adopted the Korean practice of bear bile farming in the 1980s with the argument that it would protect wild Asiatic black bears by satisfying the market for bile with farmed products. However, the lack of reliable data on the population or distribution of Asiatic black bears in China makes it difficult to evaluate this claim.
Population estimates reported in the past have suffered from inadequate methodology and great variations in results, and have therefore been unreliable. As Dr David Garshelis, Co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, noted in a letter to the “China Daily”: “The truth is that we do not know whether bear farming saves any wild bears. We know that huge surpluses of farmed bile are produced; yet we also know that poaching of wild bears continues because wild bile is more valuable than farmed bile. The truth is that nobody really knows how many wild bears live in China, nor how many are being poached every year.”
Therefore, knowing more about the numbers and habits of bears in China is crucial and will not only serve our purposes in determining whether bear farming contributes towards the conservation of the species, but will also enable conservationists to press for more effective protective measures for moon bears in general.
A financial report will also be submitted to Animals Asia at the end of this field session. Other organisations funding the survey include the International Bear Association and the World Society for the Protection of Animals.