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).
1. How many moon bears are left in the wild in China and worldwide?
In 1997, the Chinese Ministry of Forestry figures stated that there are 46,530 moon bears in China. However, according to Traffic East Asia, there are 25,000 moon bears left in the world.
In another report, the Bear Conservation Action Plan published by the IUCN lists the numbers of moon bears in China as fewer than 20,000 and other estimates by WWF state the figure may be as low as 16,000. These figures are undoubtedly the most reliable.
The majority of moon bears worldwide are located in China, many in the northern and southeastern provinces. The main provinces for bear farming are Heilongjiang and Jilin in the north and Sichuan and Yunan in the southeast.
3. How many moon bears are kept on farms in China?
The last official figures in late 2007 is 7002 bears on 68 farms Ė but we fear the true figure could be as high as 10,000. Previously, the last official figures in 1999 were 7,002 bears on 247 farms: 6,774 were moon bears, 187 brown bears and 41 sun bears. Many of the smaller farms have closed and bigger ones merged.
4. How many farms are legal?
Officially all the farms should be legal, as they must be licensed by the Government, although there are probably some smaller illegal, unlicensed farms.
5. Is there a law against poaching the bears?
In 1989, it became illegal to hunt bears for their parts,under the Chinese Wild Animal Protection Law. After 1990, no moon bears were allowed to be caught from the wild for farming Ė all existing farms are now supposed to breed their bears in captivity. However, over 20 per cent of the farmed bears arriving at Animals Asia's rescue centre are missing limbs, indicating that bears were still being trapped in the wild until quite recently, in direct violation of the existing laws.
6. Which countries have the most demand for bile?
Japan, Korea, Vietnam and China have the highest demand for bear bile. Bear parts, bile powder and bile products are also found in Taiwan, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the US and Canada. The consumers in these countries are predominantly ethnically Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
7. Isn't there a new "humane" method of bile extraction in China?
The new method is every bit as cruel and damaging as the older methods. The "free dripping" technique, which was developed just a few years ago, sees a permanent hole, or fistula, drilled into the bear's abdomen and gall bladder. During milking, a metal tube is poked into the hole, breaking the membrane, with the bile then allowed to flow out. Not surprisingly, in the unhygienic environment of a bear farm, the hole often becomes badly infected, causing risk of disease or death to the bear. In addition, the hole in the gall bladder often sees bile leaking into the abdomen, causing a slow and agonising death from peritonitis. More information on bile extraction techniques.
8. How often are the bears milked?
Bears are usually milked once or twice a day before meals as this is when the density and viscosity of the bile is higher. About 10-15ml is extracted each time. The bile powder produced per bear could be 3-5 kg each year. Some larger farms claim that they can milk their bears four times a day, but this is unusual.
Some farms also milk their bears less frequently than once a day due to the belief that less frequent milking means the bile is of a much superior quality.
9. Up to now how many bears have actually arrived at the rescue centre?
As of July 2011, 277 bears had been confiscated by the Chinese Government into the care of Animals Asia. Today we have 165 living bears at the Chengdu rescue centre. In Vietnam,we have rescued 84 bears, 79 of whom are still living.
10. How many vets do you have at the rescue centre? How many workers altogether?
At the start of 2009, we have one full-time Senior Veterinary Surgeon, who divides her time between the Chengdu and Vietnam sanctuaries, and one other vet on site in both Chengdu and Vietnam. In China, we have two or three full-time vet nurses and one or two in Vietnam, depending on needs at the time. We also employ over 150 local staff on site in Chengdu and nearly 40 in Vietnam.
These employees work in a number of areas: bear care, horticulture, maintenance, administration, public relations, cleaning, cooking (for bears and staff), etc.
11. What is the ratio of female bears to males?
The ratio is roughly two-thirds female to one third male.
12. How many bears can be held at the sanctuary, including the bamboo forest and rehab area?
More news on this soon as original plans are changing in order to fit many more bears on site than originally anticipated. While Rehab and Forest Areas are now operational, exciting new plans are under way for more extensive zones, which will enable a greater number of bears to arrive more quickly from the farms. Our rescue centre and hospital in Chengdu will act as "Bear Central" and all bears will come through this facility as they are rescued from the farms.
13. Is your Education Centre already open to the public?
No, but while waiting for our Education Centre to be built, we have completed a large Educational Classroom on site and are now seeing dozens of local groups visiting the centre on a regular basis. Since we are not officially open to the public, we hold Open Days twice a month, where visitors are taken on a guided tour by staff members.
14. How much money do you still need to free all the bears?
That's not a simple question as it depends when the Chinese Government ends bear farming and how many bears are left. If they were to stop the breeding, the numbers would fall off dramatically as the mortality rate is undoubtedly high. The main costs for the rescue are surgery and medication, land and feed and care for the rest of the bears' lives and it would be safe to say that costs will run into millions and millions of US dollars.
15. What about the sceptics who say that bear farming will never end and that you will never change a "traditional practice"?
As the China Bear Rescue progresses, we become more optimistic that our goal of ending bear farming will be reached. Our government partners continue to close more farms, assist us in the rescue of tortured caged moon bears and publicly declare their change of attitude for the practice as a whole. Traditional Chinese medicine doctors with whom we work strongly condemn the prescription and consumption of bear bile, and the media and general public become more supportive by the day. Enthusiastic media reports praising the strategy and work of Animals Asia are now being published across China.
16. Does Animals Asia pay for the in bears? Isnít this just encouraging farmers to go out and get more?
In China where bear farming is legal, we do compensate the farmers for the bears so that they can set up a new cruelty-free enterprise or retire, the farm is closed down and the farmerís licence is confiscated and given to Animals Asia. The amount of compensation is negotiated between the Chinese Government and the farmer. We do not publicise the figure as it varies in every situation.
The regulations are particularly lax and no law exists to oversee the practice of bear farming per se. However, once the licence is confiscated, the farmers are not allowed to buy new bears, so they can never farm bears in China again.
Compensation is a very important part of the rescue Ė not only does it enable the farmer to go out and start an alternative type of business, it also ensures that there is no ill feeling towards Animals Asia from the local communities. We want to see all the farms closed, but we don't want to be responsible for local families going hungry.
In Vietnam, where bear bile farming is technically illegal, although still widespread, we donít compensate the farmers.