Can we be the generation to end bear bile farming?


Bear bile farming is one of the cruellest abuses of animals in the world and is of dubious medicinal value.

"Confined to small cages, starved, dehydrated and suffering from multiple diseases, over 20,000 bears in Asia are forced into captivity with severe pain and psychological distress for a fluid in the gallbladder used in traditional medicine."

By Gilbert Sape, head of our bears and traditional medicine campaign

After 14 years of relentless campaigning, we could be the generation to end the cruel and unnecessary suffering of these beautiful and proud animals as the tide begins to turn, driven by governments, practitioners and the power of the people.

Confined to small cages, starved, dehydrated and suffering from multiple diseases, over 20,000 bears in Asia are forced into captivity with severe pain and psychological distress for a fluid in the gallbladder used in traditional medicine.

It’s a horrific picture, extracting the bile can include bears having their gallbladders punctured to extract fluid using tubes or a hole made in the abdomen to allow the bile to freely drip out, causing excruciating pain both in the short and long-term.

Bear bile is believed to treat abscesses, hemorrhoids, epilepsy and cysts. Although there is no medical evidence to support this and synthetic and herbal alternatives are all readily available, the industry has continued to flourish over the past 36 years with poaching leading to less numbers of bears in the wild.

This all paints a gruesome picture, but the tide is slowly turning.

Traditional medicine practitioners are questioning the validity of bear bile. In South Korea, recent research surveyed a number of Korean traditional medicine practitioners and found that 93.3% of them believed that people simply take bear bile because of blind faith. They also had concerns about its safety, with most traditional medicine doctors having prescribed alternatives.

Even more momentous is the recent completion of a sterilisation programme in South Korea which will see the end of bears being bred in captivity for their bile.

With all farmed bears now sterilised, the programme will ultimately end the captive breeding of bears. The bears currently confined in facilities will be the last ones to suffer in captivity for their bile - with no new bears entering the industry.

We campaigned long and hard with our local partner Green Korea United (GKU), and have worked with the South Korean Government and bear owners to bring about this landmark achievement. It’s also been a tireless campaign by the South Korean people, who since 2005 have led events and activities to help raise awareness and reduce demand for bile.

What is now needed is for South Korea to develop a management plan for the remaining captive bears. We must also ensure that this path continues towards South Korea’s plan to end the bear bile industry in 2024.

We could be the generation that ends the needless suffering of bears, and some of the worst cases of their exploitation across the world. We must keep the momentum on campaigning and lobbying as much as we can to end this cruel industry.

It’s now up to other countries involved in the bear bile industry to step up to the plate and emulate South Korea.

World Animal Protection and GKU have provided a framework and recommendations for other countries to follow by mapping out the path towards sterilisation in a white paper. If South Korea can do it, so can others.

Read more: South Korea takes steps to end cruel bear bile industry, following our campaigning with local partners

In China, 84% of people surveyed hope to see the bear bile industry banned and over 90% would be willing to be involved in better protecting bears.

At China’s annual parliamentary session of National People’s Congress, lawmakers from Hong Kong submitted a formal proposal to ban the commercial farming of bears for the extraction of their bile.

With this kind of action, we can all see a future in which we can work with organisations, governments and bear owners and play our part to end this practice once and for all. We have already seen how tireless campaigning can bring change and we must continue to push governments to keep lobbying for change until bears are no longer forced to suffer in captivity for their bile, but remain in the wild, where they belong.

Learn more about our work to end the bear bile industry

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