“They call them bear farms but they are more like bear torture camps,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, immediate past chief of wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic Southeast Asia.
“The bears are poorly treated. Some are confined to ‘crush cages’ so tight they can’t stand, sit or move,” he explained at a recent interview. “Some bears show scars as they keep bashing their heads against the cage bars.” Others have the added misery of wearing “metal jackets” designed to restrain them and with sharp metal spikes to stop them bending their heads.
There is also often a permanent catheter running from the bear’s abdomen to a bile collection pouch.
Metal pins, hooks and other makeshift devices are often crudely inserted right into the gall bladder to hold the catheter in place.
This is often done in conditions ripe for infection so the bears are fed antibiotics to keep them alive.
“Some bears are put into cages as cubs and never released,” said Robinson. And after 10, 20 or even 30 years of captivity, bears stop producing enough bile and are then killed and their body parts sold.
Some have badly worn teeth, with raw and exposed nerves, from trying to chew through the bars.
These bear concentration camps are found mostly in China, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos noted Dr Shepherd. Even Hong Kong movie stars such as Karen Mok and Jackie Chan have felt compelled to launch campaigns against bear bile farming.
Robinson said, “In Malaysia, there are no such farms, but wild sun bears are poached and killed and their gall bladders are removed for sale.”
Gloria Ganang, from the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, said poachers are even entering protected forest reserves to hunt for bears.
Heal not harmThe main driver of this horrific “industry” is the high value of bear bile in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
But luckily, the cruelty can stop as there are many alternative medicines, as reiterated last week at a joint one-day conference by the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Associations of Malaysia and Traffic Southeast Asia in Kuala Lumpur.
Federation president Ting Ka Hua said, “The purpose of traditional Chinese medicine is to save lives. But if you have to kill or torture animals to do that, then it defeats the purpose.
“Extraction of bear bile either kills bears or means horrible lives for bears in cages.”
He added, “Since there are over 50 substitutes for bear bile with similar healing powers, why don’t we use those instead?
“Our industry is different from others, it is to heal, not to harm. We are responsible for what we sell and use, and we urge everyone to stop using bear bile and medicine from endangered species.”
Kanitha Krishnasamy, acting regional director for Traffic Southeast Asia, said the organisation is very glad to be partnering with Malaysia’s largest TCM community to end illegal trade in wildlife.
Alex Choo, the federation’s secretary-general, said, “I was trained as a Chinese physician in Penang. We were not taught how to use bear bile in our text books. “I believe Chinese physicians will not prescribe bear bile, though some shops may still sell it.”
He likens the campaign to move away from bear bile to the one on shark fin. “The younger generation will probably support it, but the mindset of older folks will be harder to change.”
About 80 TCM practitioners, physicians and lecturers attended the conference. This included Dr Feng Yibin, associate director at the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) School of Chinese Medicine. According to him, the best alternative to bear bile is the herb huanglian, also known as berberis, Chinese goldthread, or by its Latin name Coptis chinensis.
During the conference, Dr Feng showed his scientific studies on the biogenetics, phytochemical properties, protein/DNA analysis and bioactivity of the herb in cellular and animal studies.
He explained that huanglian can be used like bear bile in the traditional cures of “removing damp heat”, “purging fire”, and “detoxifying”.
His conclusion: huanglian is just as effective as bear bile, and sometimes even better, in treating liver disease and cancer, two of the main uses for bear bile. The studies have been published in 25 international medical journals.
Dr Feng himself has seen improvements when patients with liver problems were treated with huanglian.
His team at HKU also investigated bile from cows and found that it has similar effects on liver inflammation and other diseases.
Dr Feng said that because bears are now endangered and bear bile is expensive, some people think that “if they pay more, it will be better”.
But being expensive is a doubled-edged sword as “some bear bile is fake or mixed with other substances”, he said.
What makes bear bile even less desirable is that it’s often extracted in backyard (often illegal) operations in unhygienic conditions.
The wounds where the catheters are poked into the bear are often infected and this can cause contamination of the bile (with bacteria or antibiotics).
“A bear can spend 30 years of its life in a cage in extreme pain every day while bile is extracted from its gall bladder,” said Dr Feng.
“It is our duty to use scientific research to find a substitute and stop this cruel practice. “We should modernise traditional Chinese medical knowledge with science. This not only benefits wildlife but also humans.” Shepherd concluded, “We don’t want to demonise the (TCM) industry. We want to work with them to improve it, and this is a huge step forward.” When the buying stops, the abuse and killing will stop too.
The sad facts and figures behind bear bile cruelty
Fact about the bear bile business from Traffic Southeast Asia and other sources: > Malaysia is ranked at No.4 of 17 countries surveyed as a key source and consumer of bear parts and derivatives.
> All bear bile, whether local or imported, is illegal in Malaysia. But 175 of 365 traditional medicine shops (48%) in every state in Malaysia had bear bile openly for sale according to a survey by Traffic in 2012. Nobody has ever been punished for this.
> In Peninsular Malaysia, the sun bear has total protection under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, and anyone who hunts, keeps or trades it without a special permit can be punished with a fine up to RM100,000 or jail up to three years, or both.
> In addition, under the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008, someone possessing bear bile can be fined up to an aggregate of RM1mil, or up to seven years jail, or both.
> The trade in bear bile in China is worth about US$250mil (RM1bil) It’s even used as an ingredient in mundane stuff like shampoo and skin creams. Apart from animal cruelty, it may become a political issue (that embarrasses China), according to Hong Kong scientist Dr Feng Yibin.
> Seizures and raids by the Wildlife Department in Malaysia have been increasing. In August 2016, dozens of bear parts (teeth, claws, gall bladders, etc) were seized in raids in Peninsular Malaysia. In the same month in Sabah, two men were arrested for trying to sell bear parts. In October 2016, a man in Pahang was arrested for trying to sell a sun bear online.
> Sun bears are being hunted and killed in Sarawak and Sabah. Two sun bear carcasses were found disembowelled with both paws chopped off in the Kulamba Wildlife Reserve in eastern Sabah in 2015.
> In the Belum-Temengor forests of northern Perak, sun bears have been found (dead or still living) with limbs caught in snares. Some are seen missing a limb, which would have probably been crushed in traps.
Fallacy And AbsurdityWith the demand of traditional medicine seekers, Sun Bears continue to be at risk of getting hunted in the wild – BSBCC Wong By Jaswinder Kler
SANDAKAN: Hunted for generations in the jungles of Borneo for the bile from its gall bladder and for food, the Malayan Sun Bear continues to be a target for the ever present global demand in traditional medicine and exotic meat. The fallacy of the benefits of bile and the idiocy of humans is threatening the world’s smallest bear which is said to have dwindled in numbers by 30 per cent in the last three decades. Asiatic Black Bears, for example, are kept in unimaginably cruel conditions in small metal cages and their bile extracted for up to 20 years, and then killed once they are unable to produce the liquid. While there are no bear bile farms in Malaysia, bear bile is consumed locally. Bear gall bladder, bear bile capsules and other bile products are sold illegally in traditional medicine stores. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said natives, particularly in Borneo, traditionally believe that the Sun Bear’s bile ejects itself out of the gall bladder and spreads inside a bear’s body, healing injuries in a fall.
“Sun Bears can climb high up on trees and normally climb down slowly from the tree. However when they encounter human encroachment in the forest when they are on a tree, they tend to slide down quickly or even drop themselves from the tree. They then recover quickly and go about their day. “This has erroneously made people believe that the phenomenon is due to the power of the Sun Bear bile that spreads within the body and heals the bears, allowing them to recover instantly. “This is why Sun Bears are traditionally hunted in the wild for their bile, apart from their meat,” Wong said. With this demand, Sun Bears continue to be at risk of getting hunted in the wild, Wong said in a statement to create awareness on the plight of Sun Bears. While the actual number of Sun Bears in the wild is unknown, its status as a Totally Protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment and its listing as “Vulnerable” on The IUCN Red List are not keeping those after its bile away from the risk of prosecution.
BSBCC founder and CEO Wong Siew Te with rescued Sun Bear, Natalie. As cubs, bears are cute but the law does not allow anyone to keep them as pets. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC. Under the Enactment, those found in possession of a Sun Bear or its product could face a fine of up to RM50,000 or a jail term of five years, or both. Wong said Sun Bears are still hunted in Borneo for their purported medicinal properties, and cited a recent news report on bear meat and parts being sold at a market in Kapit, Sarawak. Other threats that Sun Bears face include habitat loss and demand for the exotic pet trade. “Sun Bear cubs are cute and there is demand for such a pet. To get a cub, the mother is killed to prevent hunters from getting harmed. Once these cubs grow, they become aggressive and it becomes dangerous to keep them as pets. “This is when they are surrendered to the authorities. They lose survival skills when kept as pets, as this is something they learn from their mothers,” he said. Bears surrendered to or confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department are sent to the BSBCC adjacent to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. It is currently home to 28 Sun Bears.
Awareness activities will be stepped up once the BSBCC is officially opened to the public, tentatively by early next year. The BSBCC is planning to hold a fund raiser on July 20 in Sandakan to meet the ever increasing costs of caring for Sun Bears in captivity and for awareness work.
Sun Bears are also sought after for the pet trade, but problems emerge once the bears grow older and become aggressive. – Picture courtesy of BSBCC. The fundraising dinner with the theme “Big Dreams, Little Bears” will see Wong sharing with guests updates on Sun Bears, apart from an exclusive photographic art auction by Jonathan Tan and performances by Jaclyn Victor, Gary Chow, Pink Tan and Amir Yussof and friends. A free documentary screening is scheduled for July 21 at the Sabah Hotel for 500 students, teachers and representatives of local associations. The BSBCC is a non-governmental organisation set up in 2008 through collaboration of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP). Major funders for BSBCC include Yayasan Sime Darby, the federal Tourism Ministry, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, the Sabah State Government and other foreign and local organisations.
Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia 16th November 2012—“Traditional medicine practitioners have a crucial role to play in reducing the demand for bear bile and gallbladder that drives the illegal trade in South-East Asia’s bears,” TRAFFIC told delegates to the 9th World Congress of Chinese Medicine held in Kuching, Sarawak in Malaysia last week.
The Congress, one of the industry’s most important annual gatherings, serves as a platform for specialists from all over the world to present the latest developments in Chinese medicine. The theme of this year’s Congress was Traditional Chinese Medicine—contributing factor to the harmony of humans and nature.
Speaking at the Congress, TRAFFIC Deputy Regional Director in South-East Asia, Dr Chris R. Shepherd, described how TRAFFIC’s research had shown that continued demand for traditional medicines made from bear parts and derivatives posed a severe threat to wild bear populations in Asia. Both bear species in South-East Asia—the Asian Black Bear Ursus thibetanus and Sun Bear Helarctos malayanus—are hunted, especially for their gallbladder, which contains bile—a key ingredient in some traditional medicines.
A 2011 TRAFFIC study, Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia (PDF, 1 MB), had shown such trade to be widespread, often carried out openly, despite it being illegal, and revealed that many of the farms supplying bear gallbladder and bile are stocking their facilities with wild-caught bears and not captive bred ones as often claimed.
Surveys have repeatedly found China to be the main source of the bear bile products on sale throughout South-East Asia. Such international trade in South-East Asian bears, and their parts and derivatives, is strictly prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Both South-East Asian bear species are listed in Appendix I of the Convention, which prohibits international commercial trade. They are also both listed as Vulnerable by IUCN, because of their declining populations in the wild. In September 2012, a Motion to phase out bear bile extraction facilities stocked with wild-caught bears was overwhelmingly passed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, held in Jeju, South Korea.
The Motion also recommended Parties to CITES to implement fully the legislation to prevent illegal international trade in Asian Black and Sun Bears and products derived from them, and promote greater public awareness of these issues to reduce the demand for bear products.
“While the IUCN Motion is a step in the right direction, it is absolutely critical too that efforts be made to reduce greatly the demand for bear bile. In addition to increased enforcement efforts, active participation from the traditional medicine practitioners and retailers is essential to meet this goal,” said Shepherd. TRAFFIC is also urging authorities to step up their efforts to shut down the illegal trade, and ensure those violating CITES and national legislations are penalized.
“There are legal herbal alternatives to bear bile – consumers need to be made aware of this and be persuaded to stop using medicine containing bear bile,” added Shepherd.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 11th May 2011—Poaching and illegal trade of bears, driven largely by the demand for bile, used in traditional medicine and folk remedies continues unabated across Asia on a large scale, a new report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, has found.
Bear bile products were found on sale in Traditional Medicine outlets in all but one of the 13 countries/territories surveyed says the report entitled Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia (PDF, 2 MB). The exception is Macao. Products were most frequently observed in mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Viet Nam, where they were recorded in over half of all outlets surveyed. The most frequently encountered products were whole bear gall bladders and pills—found in half of the outlets surveyed.
TRAFFIC’s research suggests a complex and robust trade in bear products. Several of the countries/territories surveyed were either producers or consumers of bear bile products, while in some cases they acted as both.
Mainland China was the most commonly reported place of origin for these products across the region. In Myanmar, internationally sourced gall bladders were reported to come solely from Lao PDR; in Hong Kong, in cases where the source was known, products were reported to have originated in Japan and over half of those offered for sale in the South Korea were from wild sources in Russia.
Domestic trade of bear bile is legal under strict regulation within mainland China and Japan but is illegal in Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. Regardless of the legality of trade within countries, international trade is not allowed.
Asiatic Black Bears (predominant in this trade) and Sun Bears are both listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which prohibits international commercial trade in the species, its parts and derivatives. An analysis of the origin of bear bile products found in these surveys makes it clear that import and export regulations are commonly flouted demonstrating a failure to implement CITES requirements to stop illegal international bear bile trade effectively and protect bears from exploitation.
“Unbridled illegal trade in bear parts and products continues to undermine CITES which should be the world’s most powerful tool to regulate cross-border wildlife trade,” said Kaitlyn-Elizabeth Foley, lead author of the report and Senior Programme Officer of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
The study found that the vast majority of the bear farms surveyed in Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam did not have captive breeding programmes, suggesting they depend on bears captured from the wild.
“The study makes a clear case for authorities to shut down businesses selling illegal bear products and prosecute individuals caught selling, buying, transporting or keeping bears illegally,” said Foley.
“Both the Asiatic Black Bear and the Sun Bear are threatened by poaching and illegal trade. The demand for bile is one of the greatest drivers behind this trade and must be reduced if bear conservation efforts are to succeed,” added Foley. “Even legal bear bile producers are circumventing domestic and international regulations by exporting products internationally,” said Dr Jill Robinson MBE, Founder and CEO of Animals Asia Foundation, which rescues bears from farms in China and Viet Nam.
“This report, in addition to Animals Asia’s years of research, shows that the bear bile industry is engaging in illegal practices. As pressure mounts on the wild bear population, there are serious questions to be answered on the welfare and pathology of farmed bears, and the risks to human health in those who consume the contaminated bile from such sick and diseased bears,” said Robinson.
Notes: The study’s main findings are: • Bear bile products were observed in traditional medicine outlets in 12 out of 13 Asian countries/territories surveyed • Bear bile products were available at 50% or more of traditional medicine outlets surveyed in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Viet Nam. • China is the most commonly reported source for bear bile products A short presentation can be viewed at: http://prezi.com/y_mqfj2c8acx/the-bear-bile-trade-in-asia/ For further information: Kaitlyn Elizabeth-Foley, Senior Programme Officer, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Tel: ++603 7880 3940, email@example.com Elizabeth John, Senior Communications Officer, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Tel: ++603 7880 3940, firstname.lastname@example.org Richard Thomas, Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC. Tel: +44 1223 279068, email: email@example.com