1. What is a bear bile farm?
Many people around the world do not know anything about Bear Bile Farming. Firstly, bear bile is a yellow liquid that is extracted from the gallbladder while the bear is still living. Bear bile has been used in Asian medicinal practices for centuries and some studies show it can help treat liver maladies. Today it is used to treat everything from a head cold to cancer although there has been no study confirming that the bile actually helps cure these illnesses. The bears that are captured and used for bear bile are the Sun Bears and the Asiatic (or Moon) Bears.
2. Where is it practiced?
Commercial farming of bears began in Korea in the 1980s and this is now practiced in Vietnam, Laos and largely in China. In China at least 10,000 bears are kept in the industry legally and used for their bile before being killed and often sold for parts. While it is illegal in Laos to hunt, capture or extract bile from bears, there is little being done to enforce it. It is a relatively new business in Laos and one that grew from 40 bile-extraction facilities in 2008 to 122 in 2012.
3. What Happens as a Bear Bile Farm?
As you can imagine, it is a very painful process for the bear to endure. Bile extracting causes long term health effects, lifelong physical injury and psychological trauma to the animal. Bears are kept in cages the size of themselves or smaller which prevents them from moving around and makes it easier for the extractor to tie the paws to the cage bars when extracting the bile. Usually a permanent catheter is inserted into the bear to extract the bile. On some farms they practice breeding the animals in order to continue the process and thus cubs can spend up to 30 years in a cage.
4. What is Being Done?
Thankfully there is action that is being taken. In addition to sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, governments have also taken action to prevent these practices from continuing. Vietnam outlawed bear bile farming in 2006 and holds an annual Bear Week to raise awareness of this practice. In 2017 World Animal Protection set the goal of micro-chipping captive bears in order to keep track of them to make sure they do not end up on bear bile farms. In South Korea, the government has funded a programme to sterilise all bears in captivity in order to prevent more bears from entering captivity. China has had public outcry against the continuation of bear bile farms from domestic polls to politicians. They are also under pressure after the leads that Vietnam and Korea have taken, however to date there has been no significant legislation that bans or restricts the practice of bear bile farms.
5. What Globalteer is Doing?
Globalteer has partnered with a local Cambodian Bear Sanctuary just outside of Phnom Penh. The mission is to rescue and rehabilitate bears from poaching, bear bile farms and situations where they are used as pets. We offer year round volunteer placements. At the sanctuary, volunteers have the chance to learn how and why the sanctuary is vital to preserve the existence and well-being of the bears. Volunteers assist local Cambodian staff in feeding and caring for the bears, maintaining their enclosures and making toys for the bears.