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 half-way to goal of rescuing 500 bears from China’s bile farms
Animals Asia Foundation today (6 Feb) rescued 13 more moon bears, bringing to 260 the total number of bears the Hong-Kong headquartered charity has saved from a life of torture on cruel bile farms in China.
The bears, which were confiscated from a farmer in Dujiangyan, arrived at Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre stacked on the back of a truck still in their farm cages just after 3pm. The centre’s vet team set to work immediately, prioritising those most in need of emergency medical treatment.
The bears arrived malnourished and clearly distressed. Some rocked from side to side in agitation while others cowered in terror. One bear, who we named “Shui” (Water), was euthanised after an emergency health-check. His abdomen was grossly distended with suspected liver cancer and he had water on his lungs.
The farmers claim that a new catheter-free, free-drip method of bile extraction – involving the creation of a permanent hole in the abdomen – is painless for the bears and that the industry, therefore, is now “humane”.
Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson however, says the latest batch of tormented, disfigured bears provides further proof that the bile trade is as brutal as ever. “This so-called ‘humane’ method involves a hole being brutally cut into the bear’s abdomen. The farmer re-opens the wound each time he extracts bile by poking a tube into the hole, which is naturally trying to heal. Inevitably, the wound becomes horribly infected, causing all sorts of other medical problems,” Ms Robinson said.
“These poor animals have endured years of extreme suffering, trapped in barbaric, tiny cages, unable even to turn around. They don’t even have free access to water and are deliberately starved, because hungry bears produce more bile,” Ms Robinson said. “Most of the bears that arrived today had scars and wounds on their heads as a result of repetitive bar-rubbing during their years on the farm. In short, they are cage-crazy.”
Animals Asia’s senior vet Heather Bacon said the euthanised bear Shui’s liver was so swollen that it took up three quarters of his abdomen. The liver is usually three times smaller. She said this bear had clearly been suffering terribly for some time. He had been the victim of the free-drip method and he had two bile extraction sites.
“Some others could be suffering from liver cancer, which is all too common among bears that have been tapped for their bile,” Dr Bacon said. “Some of these bears are clearly sick and it will take a few days before we can determine the full extent of their injuries. We fear some more may have liver cancer as this is often the case with bears that have been tapped for their bile. But even if we are forced to euthanise some more, at least their suffering will be over soon,” Dr Bacon said.
A high-profile supporter of Animal Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue, Harriet Tung was on site to witness the bears’ arrival and to see for herself the condition in which they arrive from the farms. Mrs Tung is the wife of shipping magnate Tung Chee Chen and sister-in-law of Tung Chee Hwa, Hong Kong's first Chief Executive, and now a Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Politics Consultative Conference.
Mrs Tung, who was visibly moved by the experience, is lobbying to help Animals Asia in its efforts to end bear farming. She announced today that she would like to name two of the bears after her husband’s shipping group, Orient Overseas (OOCL), or Dong Fang Hai Wai – one bear called Dong Fang (East Square) and one called Hai Wai.
“It is extremely difficult to witness the euthanasia of a bear which arrived in poor condition with an enlarged liver and fluid on the lungs. I feel it would be much more humane to obtain the ursodeoxycholic acid [the active ingredient in bear bile] from herbal or synthetic alternatives,” she said.
Jill Robinson first visited a bile farm in 1993. She had been working in animal welfare in Asia for many years, but nothing had prepared her for the horror of that farm. “It was a torture chamber, a hell-hole for animals. They literally couldn’t move, they couldn’t stand up, they couldn’t turn around,” she says. She made a promise to the bears that day: she would devote her life to freeing them from their torture and would not stop until every last bear farm had closed down.
In July 2000, after years of negotiating and lobbying, Animals Asia signed a landmark agreement with the Chinese authorities to rescue 500 moon bears and work towards ending the barbaric practice of bear bile farming and promote herbal alternatives to bear bile.
Under the agreement, the authorities close down the worst of the farms, confiscate the bears and place them under the care of Animals Asia. The farmers are compensated financially so they can either retire or set up in another business. Their licences are taken away permanently and the licence is given to Animals Asia.
“It’s important that the community is behind the rescue,” Ms Robinson said. “We want to help the Chinese people end bear bile farming, but we don’t want families to go hungry.
“In this case, the officials asked Animals Asia if we could take 13 bears that they wanted to confiscate from a farmer who had violated regulations. Of course, we agreed, but to ensure that our original agreement remained in place, we secured their agreement that they would completely close another farm within 12 months,” she said, adding that Sichuan Forestry had assured her that the farmer would not be allowed to replace the bears confiscated into our care.
Animals Asia will also be meeting with officials from Sichuan Forestry and Beijing’s China Wildlife Conservation Association later in the year to review our original agreement.
Consumers in China, Japan and Korea have the highest demand for bear bile. Bear parts, bile powder and bile products are also found in Australia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the US and Canada. It is illegal for bear products to be exported from China, but the black market trade is thriving. The bile is used in traditional medicine for a range of complaints including fever, liver disease and sore eyes. Synthetic and herbal alternatives are readily available.
Officially, 7,000 bears are still trapped in farms throughout China, but Animals Asia suspects the figure is as high as 10,000. Some have been incarcerated for more than 20 years.
Animals Asia’s sanctuary not only helps bears, but people within the community too. The sanctuary provides employment for over 150 local Chinese staff and utilises local products from the surrounding areas, such as construction materials, food and produce for bears and people alike.