Statement on bear bile usage to treat Covid-19

27 March 2020

Animals Asia has learned Tanreqing, which has bear bile as an active ingredient, is being used as a treatment for cases  of COVID-19.

Tanreqing is a kind of compounded Chinese medicine, which is composed of five kinds of Chinese medicine, namely Scutellaria (skullcap), bear bile powder, goat horn, honeysuckle and Forsythia. Tanreqing capsules are also composed of these five ingredients. Among them, Scutellaria, honeysuckle and forsythia are plant-based medicine while bear bile powder and goat horn are animal-based medicine. Tanreqing includes bear bile which contains the bile acid ursodeoxycholic acid or UDCA. Synthetic UDCA has been produced and used across the world for decades to treat a variety of medical issues.

Animals Asia believes we shouldn't be relying on wildlife products like bear bile as the solution to combat a deadly virus that appears to have originated from wildlife. It is accurate to assert the active ingredient in bear bile, UDCA, is effective in treating some conditions. This is the reason it has been produced synthetically (not using bile from bears) for decades and sold by the tonne across the world. Additionally, we understand according to the National Health Commission, Tanreqing has been used to successfully treat respiratory conditions like pneumonia and similar illnesses to COVID-19 for several years with success. However, TCM has thousands of years of practical application and knowledge to draw upon, together with a philosophy of balancing harmony and peace with the environment. Such medicines should heal without harm. 

Bear looks out from behind bars

In late February, China made the decision to comprehensively ban wildlife consumption. We commend the nation of China for taking this action. However, according to the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, wildlife used in scientific research, medicine and display were excluded from this ban. Therefore, to our knowledge, the decision to ban wildlife consumption has not affected bear bile farming. 

However, recent legislation ushered in around wildlife has included stricter controls on the use of animals in the production of medicine. We sincerely hope that such controls will tighten even more to allow greater protection for species such as bears.

Animals Asia team members have been working and campaigning for an end to bear bile farming in China for nearly 30 years. During this time we have seen great changes and with the support of the government we have rescued over 400 bears and continue to care for them at our rescue facilities in Chengdu and Nanning.. We have also had success in working with the government in Vietnam to rescue over 200 bears there and signed an MOU with Vietnam to completely end bear bile farming in that country by 2022. It’s not about petitioning or protesting. It is about working cooperatively with all areas of government and industry. For now, bile farming is legal in China and we work within those parameters. But Animals Asia was founded to help bears and is led by the same founding members who were responsible for bringing the plight of bears to the world’s attention in 1993. Given our extensive experience in the field of animal welfare in China, and as the only organisation with a bear sanctuary in China, we are always ready to offer knowledge and assistance in the development of policies that are aimed at protecting the people of China and the world from health issues associated with the use of wildlife products for human consumption.

Historically, more than 10,000 bears have been caged and farmed for their bile across Asia. Bile is extracted by various means from using metal and latex catheters, to open wounds in the abdomen, to the insertion of four-inch needles into the gall bladder. Not only is it painful, unsanitary and a breeding ground for disease, caging a wild animal such as a bear for its entire lifespan for bile extraction is cruel.  Bile extraction is an invasive process. Animals Asia has seen the damaging effects of bile extraction on our rescued bears who have suffered from unnecessary surgical procedures which have led to heart disease, ocular and dental disease, gall bladder disease, painful arthritis, cancers, hypertension, open wound infection and more. Many of the bears arriving at our sanctuary are in great pain due to the consequences of these invasive bile extraction procedures. Moreover, given the nature by which it is extracted, bear bile inherently contains infection and disease. We encourage all stakeholders to find a way to heal without harm.