Fewer than 300 bears remain on less than 100 farms. However, this is still an incredibly high number considering the Vietnamese government already took measures against the cruel keeping of bears in 2005 by banning the sale and possession of bear bile.
Through our research, we've found most of these bears suffer endlessly in tiny metal cages. To make matters worse, bile is still extracted from many of these innocent bears' stomachs. Their bile is then sold in secret on the black market, and later used for traditional medicines and made into tinctures.
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To extract bile, bears are first anesthetized under appalling conditions. Anesthetic is often administered unprofessionally or is too weak. As a result, the bears are subjected to incredible pain while they are still awake. Next their gallbladders are located using an ultrasound and punctured with a needle through the abdominal wall.
Most of the bile bears suffer from chronic liver and gallbladder disease and frequently develop secondary complications, like liver cancer. The bile farming and extraction practice puts great stress on the physical and mental health of the bears, which eventually leads to their death. Inappropriate keeping conditions, diet and exercise deprivation contributes to mobility problems, wasted muscles, and obesity. Moreover, the unstimulating environment, and the confined space and mistreatment lead to behavioral disorders, often seen in animals in bad captive settings. Due to boredom and escape attempts the bears also often chew on their cage bars, which result in broken and damaged teeth.
Kept in cramped metal cages, the bears can’t lie down or stand fully upright. Some cages are so small that a fully-grown bear can have difficulty even turning around.
“The cages are extremely tiny, scarcely larger than the bears themselves and completely devoid of stimuli. The bears lack everything. They are ill and lifeless. I have seen animals that could not even lie down properly in their cage. They had to sleep in a sitting position. Bears kept on these farms usually have no access to water. This is extreme cruelty to animals”.
Magdalena Scherk-Trettin, FOUR PAWS Project Coordinator for Bear Rescues
Why all this cruelty?
Bear bile has been a sought-after ingredient in traditional medicine for 3,000 years because of its medicinal qualities. Whole gallbladders are also highly sought after and used for the same traditional medicine purposes as liquid bile. Bear bile can be found mostly in traditional but also in cosmetic products from Asian origin. Presently, with so many bears in farms in China and across Asia, bile is readily available and can be found in a number of products ranging from shampoo and wine to eye drops.
In addition to products containing bile, whole gallbladders, paws (in soup or wine), along with pelts, claws, teeth and bones are all widely traded. In traditional clinical practice, bear bile is used in fever fighting, detoxification, inflammation, swelling and pain reduction. Meanwhile, synthetic and herbal alternatives to bear bile have existed since the 1950s.