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 has an agreement with the Chinese government to rescue 500 bears and work towards the end of bear farming countrywide. We also have an agreement in Vietnam (where bear farming is illegal) to rescue 200 bears. To date, nearly 280 bears in China and over 70 bears in Vietnam have been rescued and taken into our care. Nearly all are Asiatic black bears (also known as moon bears), although some are sun or brown bears.
At the same time, we are investigating the complicated dynamics of the trade – researching the health and pathology of the bears, the trade in bile, bile usage and alternatives to bile.
We are also engaging with practitioners of traditional medicine, the public, schools, and the media within China and Vietnam as well as internationally.
The agreement we have with the Chinese government sees whole farms closed and the caged victims released into our care. We receive the original licence and the farmers receive compensation allowing them to take up alternative work, rather than seeing their livelihood affected as a result of our work.
Full details of this campaign can be found on our website, but here is a summary of our current education and Healing without Harm campaign. It focuses on China, where bear farming is still a legal practice.
Government lobbying and partnerships
Since July 2000, we have partnered with the Sichuan Forestry Administration and the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) in Beijing to close bears farms and work towards our goal of ending bear farming countrywide. So far, over 40 farms have been closed.
We are also working to influence the Chinese government to pass and enforce laws to end bear farming through lobbying and continued development of relationships at central and provincial level. This includes our engagement with national legislators (National People’s Congress) and government officials within state and provincial forestry departments, the CWCA, health and drug authorities, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), industry and commercial administrations.
In December 2009, we joined the Forestry leaders of 18 of mainland China’s 31 provinces and districts who pledged that they were committed to remaining bear-farm free and would root out any hidden bile farms. Since then we have been joined by Shandong Province and, together with Shanghai, we now see 20 provinces and districts that are bear farm free. This means that more than half of China is now free of the bile industry and committed to staying that way.
The leaders of these provinces are also keen to advance conservation, research and public education programmes that will benefit wildlife in their provinces. Animals Asia has pledged to support such initiatives and has created the “Wildlife Welfare and Conservation Fund” to help protect and foster respect for wild and endangered species, such as China’s moon bears.
Partnership with Traditional Medicine Community
Our work with the TCM community is essential and we have many eminent doctors of traditional medicine who are supportive of seeing bear farming end. As they say, the physical and mental degradation of the bears on farms conflicts with harmony in nature, which is at the core of Chinese medicine and belief. We are stepping up our long-running “Healing without Harm” campaign, in partnership with TCM practitioners across the globe, with doctors and pharmacists in China pledging not to prescribe or sell endangered species.
In November 2009, we partnered with the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) and provided funding for an "educate the educators" TCM symposium in Beijing. Participants included a Chinese pathologist, a TCM doctor and a researcher from the Hong Kong University (more below), who stated their case against bear farming in relation to the condition of the bears, the ready alternatives available and the potential health impact on those who consume such contaminated bile.
Dr Lixin Huang, President of the ACTCM, makes her point (and that of her peers) clearly, in supporting the end of bear farming when she says:
“Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) promotes harmony and healing. Using bear bile and endangered species in TCM does not support harmony or healing. Many products containing bear bile are not prescribed or recommended by TCM doctors. We ask bear farmers not to use the excuse of traditional medicine as a reason for farming bears, because we do not need bear bile to save patient lives.”
In February 2010 we joined with 33 pharmacists in Chengdu who agreed never to stock or sell bear bile products in their shops – and promptly set fire to the products in the street in front of a surprised, but supportive public!
Research into the effectiveness of bear bile alternatives
We are supporting the groundbreaking work of Professor Feng Yibin and his colleagues at the University of Hong Kong School of Chinese Medicine. Professor Feng is researching the effectiveness of various Chinese herbal alternatives for ailments commonly treated using bear bile products and describes studies comparing extracts from two species of the herb "coptis", against raw bear bile and purified active ingredients from bear bile.
The tests showed coptis to be far more effective than bear bile at killing cancer cell lines. This research is ongoing and will help to refute claims made by the government that no effective alternatives to bear bile exist.
Public education – bear bile health risks, available alternatives and cruelty on farms
We provide information for government officials, target groups (bile users, funders, partners, TCM practitioners) and the broader public regarding the cruel treatment of bears, conservation impacts and potential health risks of using bear bile. We also visit schools in China, showing children early that bears belong in the wild, not on farms.
One of the most important aspects of Animals Asia’s work involves the participation of the very people that are current or future consumers of bear bile. We open the doors of our sanctuaries to thousands of school children and college students to learn about this barbaric industry and to understand why they should protect bears for their own sake rather than how they can benefit humankind.
Visitors leave pledging never to consume bear bile and to expand this message of awareness to family, friends and their communities. We can honestly say that since our work began in 2000, not one visitor has left maintaining that bear farming should continue – and that includes a visit from a former bile farmer.
We are working with students of traditional medicine across China to ensure that they never prescribe bear parts or bile in their future working careers.
Media and celebrity support
Celebrities well known in China and Vietnam are helping to convey the message that bear farming is a cruel and unnecessary practice. Karen Mok Man Wai (the “Madonna of Asia”) works with us in China, and Maggie Q (“Die Hard 4”, “Mission Impossible”) works with us in Vietnam.
International support comes from Olivia Newton John, Stephen Fry, Virginia McKenna, Sir Terry Waite, Dr Dame Jane Goodall, Dr Katrina Warren and previously Steve Irwin (RIP).
Promoting change from within
There is an enormous movement growing within China – and it’s being fuelled not only by organisations like ours that work quietly behind the scenes with central government and local authorities, but also by local Chinese groups working vocally and increasingly more effectively.
Over 60 local groups have joined our Animals Asia Friendship Alliance across the country. We are helping these groups with advice, small grants and information, allowing them to grow strong. We are determined to help more grassroots Chinese people to change China from within. These are the people who are bringing animal welfare to the fore, and escalating programmes to end cruelty and abuse.
We feel that through the continued development of all these factors we are working towards the eventual end to both the bear farming industry and ultimately the consumption of bear bile.
Following the rescues in China of March 2008, February 2009 and April 2010 we do not know when more bears will be released into our care, but what we can promise you we will never give up our campaign to bring this terrible industry to an end.
What you can do
Animals Asia never underestimates the power of the written word, and while a single letter or email may not seem like much, the collective expression of many people's opinions can help bring about real change.
We urge you to do all that you can to encourage the Chinese Government to end this barbaric practice. Please write a polite letter to the Chinese Ambassador and send it to the main embassy address in your country. Embassy addresses can be found here.
Working together and with your support we can bring about change for the better for all animals across China.