Asiatic black bears, or moon bears, have been hunted and killed for their gallbladders for thousands of years. Bear gallbladders contain bile, a prized ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine that is believed to cure a variety of illnesses, from heart conditions to eye irritation.
In the 1980's, as China's wild bears became scarce, the government initiated bear farming in a supposed attempt to protect wild populations. Wild bears were caught, put in very small cages, and had tubes surgically implanted into their abdomens to draw out, or "milk" their bile twice daily. This process is incredibly painful to the bears, who cry out, chew on their paws, and sometimes try to kill themselves to stop the pain. Today about 12,000 bears are confined to this cruelty in China, Vietnam, and Korea. Their suffering is unnecessary, as herbal alternatives to bear bile widely exist. These alternatives are just as effective, and are much cheaper to buy and produce. It has also become clear that bear farming has not improved the population of wild bears in China. Many people believe that wild bear bile is more potent, and thus hunting of wild bears continues, despite its prohibition by China's Wildlife Protection Law.
This problem is not limited to moon bears in Asia. Asian communities around the world are creating a demand for bear bile, and the popularity of traditional Chinese medicine has spread to other cultures as well. As a result, seven of the world's eight bear species are threatened by hunting and international trade in bear parts. American bears are also killed for their gallbladders, which are sold in the United States or smuggled abroad, where they are worth more than their weight in gold.
Several animal welfare groups have brought the plight of these bears to the forefront, and have negotiated with officials in bear-farming countries. As a result, the Chinese government has agreed to release 500 bears to a sanctuary, about half of which have been released to date. Still much needs to be done to protect these magnificent animals from this unnecessary cruelty.
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