H O N G K O N G, July 24, 2000 -- China pledged today torescue 500 bears held in cages for their bile as a first step inwiping out the age-old practice, Chinese researchers and Westernactivists said.
Bile is extracted for its healing powers and ending thepractice means the rare Asiatic black bears will be freed from alife trapped in tiny cages, Huang Jian Hua of the China WildlifeConservation Association said.
The 500 are among 7,000 captive bears on 247 bear bile farmsin China, Huang said.
Bear bile has been harvested for thousands of years in Asiaand is believed to be useful in treating fever, liver illnessesand sore eyes. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners saythere are herbs that serve the same purposes as bear bile.
Huang said China’s move underscored the urgent need to helpother endangered bears held in Asian countries such as SouthKorea and Vietnam.
Life of Confinement and Pain
Under an agreement between China and Hong Kong-based AnimalsAsia Foundation (AAF), 500 captive bears in China’s centralSichuan province will be rehabilitated and placed in a sanctuaryin Ziyang city over the next five years, Huang said.
“As one can expect, the living conditions in these farmsare often disturbing. Therefore there is a pressing need for usto rescue the bears from these farms,” Huang told reporters.
The program will be extended to other parts of China overthe next 10 years.
The practice came to light in 1993 after AAF founder JillRobinson found bears incarcerated in tiny cages in bear bilefarms in China’s Sichuan province. The bears had been theresince they were cubs.
Many were lying stomach down in cages barely high enough forthem to raise their heads and spent their waking hours bitingthe iron grills or banging their heads against them.
Surgically implanted with catheters, the bears are kept inthe prone position so bile can be extracted twice a day, or 50millilitres each time.
Widespread Since 1980s
In a recent officially sanctioned visit to 11 bear farms inSichuan, Robinson saw bears kept in cages with punch holesinstead of iron grills.
“It’s a lifetime of confinement and pain, one had livedlike that for 21 years,” Robinson told Reuters.
Bear bile farms began in the 1980s in Asia after North Koreadeveloped the method of bile tapping with catheters.
China quickly adopted the practice thinking it would reducethe number of bears killed in the wild for their bile.
The industry in China mushroomed in the early 1990s when thenumber of captive bears hit 10,000 in 480 bear farms.
It was also then that bear bile prices rocketed to 20,000yuan (US$2,418) per kilogram. With the advent of synthetic bearbile and greater awareness of the inhumane method of harvesting,the price has since plunged to 2,000 yuan per kg.
Chinese farmers, who blame the low prices for their ill-keptanimals, will be given retraining after they give up theirfarms. More responsible farmers will be given compensation,Huang said.