Bile bear

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
A bile bear in a "crush cage"

Bile bears, sometimes called battery bears, are bears kept in captivity to harvest their bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder.[1] The bear species most commonly farmed for bile is the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus),[2] although the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) and the brown bear (Ursus arctos) are also used.[3][4] Both the Asiatic black bear and the sun bear are listed as Vulnerable on the Red List of Threatened Animals published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.[2][3]

Bears are farmed for bile in China, South Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar.[5][6][7][8][9]

The bile can be harvested using several techniques, all of which require some degree of surgery, and may leave a permanent fistula or inserted catheter.

The highly restrictive caging systems that are used to house the bears and the low level of skilled husbandry lead to animal welfare concerns. Living for 10–12 years under such circumstances results in severe mental stress and muscle atrophy.


Bear bile and gall bladders, which store bile, are ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Its first recorded use was recorded in Tang Ban Cao (Newly Revised Materia Medica, Tang Dynasty, 659 A.D.).[citation needed] In the early 1980s, bile bear farms began to appear in North Korea, and then spread to other regions.[6]

Methods of bile extraction[edit]

A bile bear in a "crush cage"

Several methods can be used to extract the bile. These all require surgery and include:[10]

  • Repeated percutaneous biliary drainage uses an ultrasound imager to locate the gall bladder, which is then punctured and the bile extracted.
  • Permanent implantation uses a tube entered into the gall bladder through the abdomen. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the bile is usually extracted twice a day through such implanted tubes, producing 10–20 ml of bile during each extraction.[citation needed]
  • Catheterization involves pushing a steel or perspex catheter through the bear's abdomen. The use of metal catheters has been banned, although the HSUS writes that bile bears are still seen with catheters in them.[citation needed]
  • The full-jacket method uses a permanent catheter tube to extract the bile which is then collected in a plastic bag set in a metal box worn by the bear.
  • The free drip method involves making a permanent hole, or fistula, in the bear's abdomen and gall bladder, from which bile freely drips out. The wound is vulnerable to infection, and bile can leak back into the abdomen, causing high mortality rates. Sometimes, the hole is kept open with a perspex catheter, which HSUS writes causes severe pain.[citation needed] An AAF Vet Report states that surgeries to create free-dripping fistulae caused bears great suffering as they were performed without appropriate antibiotics or pain management and the bears were repeatedly exposed to this process as the fistulae often healed over.[11]
  • Removal of the whole gall bladder is sometimes used. This method is used when wild bears are killed for their bile.

It has been estimated that 50% to 60% of bears die from complications caused by the surgery or improper post-surgical care.[12]

When the bears outlive their productive bile-producing years (around 10 years old), they are slaughtered and harvested for their other parts.[13]

Housing and husbandry[edit]

Bears are commonly kept in extraction cages.

To facilitate bile extraction, the bears are kept in small cages measuring approximately 130 x 70 x 60 cm.[12] These cages can be so small they prevent the bears from being able to stand upright, or in some cases, restrict the bear's movements even more. Some bears are kept in crush cages, the sides of which can be moved inwards to restrain the bear. The HSUS reports that some bears are moved to a crush cages for milking, but the remainder of the time live in a cage large enough to stand and turn around.[citation needed]

Bile bears are often subjected to other procedures which have their own concomitant welfare concerns. These include declawing in which the third phalanx of each front digit is removed to prevent the bears from harming the farm workers and self-mutilation. They may also have their back teeth removed for the same reasons. These procedures are often conducted by unskilled farm staff and may result in the bears being in constant pain.[12]

Welfare concerns[edit]

International concern about the welfare of bile bears began in 1993.[12] Many bile bear farms have little or no veterinary supervision and the animal husbandry is often conducted by non-skilled attendants. In combination with the impacts of small cage sizes, their spacing and lack of internal structures, there are several indicators of poor welfare.[14]

Physiological indicators[edit]

Elevated corticosteroid concentrations are a widely acknowledged indicator of physiological stress. Corticosteroid concentrations in the hair of Asiatic black bears relocated from a bile farm to a bear rescue centre fell between 12 to 88% over 163 days.[15] Other physiological indicators of stress and potentially reduced welfare include growth retardation and ulcers.[15]

A 2000 survey revealed that bile bears suffered from sores, skin conditions, ectoparasites, hair loss, bone deformities, injuries, swollen limbs, dental and breathing problems, diarrhoea and scarring.[14]

One survey of 165 bears removed from a farm showed that (out of 181 free-drip bears), 163 (99%) had cholecystitis, 109 (66%) had gall bladder polyps, 56 (34%) had abdominal herniation, 46 (28%) had internal abscessation, 36 (22%) had gallstones, and 7 (4%) had peritonitis. Many of the bears had a combination of these conditions.[16]

Behavioural indicators[edit]

Academic sources report that bile bears exhibit abnormal behaviours such as stereotypies, excessive inactivity and self-mutilation.[14][15]

Living for 10–12 years under such circumstances results in severe mental stress and muscle atrophy.[17] World Animal Protection sent researchers to 11 bile farms.[citation needed] They reported seeing bears moaning, banging their heads against their cages, and chewing their own paws (autophagia).

The Chinese media reported an incident in which a mother bear, having escaped her cage, strangled her own cub and then killed herself by intentionally running into a wall.[18]

Longevity and mortality[edit]

Farmed bile bears are often malnourished and in poor health. They live to an average age of five years old whereas healthy captive bears can live until 35 years of age and wild bears for between 25 to 30 years.[citation needed] If bile bears are often killed around 10 years of age because their productivity usually decreases beyond this.[10] They are then sold for their meat, fur, paws, and gall bladders. Bear paws are considered a delicacy.

Farmed bile bears can suffer from a variety of physical ailments which include loss of hair, malnutrition, stunted growth, and muscle mass loss, and often have their teeth and claws extracted.[citation needed]

Welfare enforcement[edit]

In 1994, Chinese authorities announced that no new bear farms would be licensed. Subsequently, the Chinese Forestry Ministry issued a special notice stating that no foreign object is allowed to be inserted into a bear body. No bears younger than 3 years of age and lighter than 100 kg can be used for bile extraction. Bears can be confined in cages only during the time of bile extraction.[12]

Catheter insertion into the bear’s body frequently caused multiple complications and bear deaths and in 1996, the Chinese Forestry Ministry banned the use of catheters. Instead, they required the adoption of the free-drip method which requires the creation of an artificial fistula between the gallbladder and the abdominal wall. To achieve this, an opening is cut in the gallbladder.[12]

In January 2006, the Chinese State Council Information Office held a press conference in Beijing, during which the government said that it was enforcing a "Technical Code of Practice for Raising Black Bears", which "requires hygienic, painless practice for gall extraction and make strict regulations on the techniques and conditions for nursing, exercise and propagation."[19] However, a 2007 veterinary report published by the Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) stated that the Technical Code was not being enforced and that many bears were still spending their entire lives in small extraction cages without free access to food or water. AAF also noted that the free-dripping technique promoted in the Technical Code was unsanitary as the fistula created to access the gall bladder allowed for an open portal through which bacteria could infiltrate the abdomen. The AAF report also stated that surgeries to create free-dripping fistulae caused bears great suffering as they were performed without appropriate antibiotics or pain management and the bears were repeatedly exposed to this process as the fistulae often healed over. The free-dripping method still requires the bears to be prodded with a metal rod when the wound heals over and under veterinary examination, some bears with free-dripping fistulae were actually found to have clear perspex catheters permanently implanted into their gall bladders. In addition to the suffering caused by infection and pain at the incision site, 28% of fistulated bears also experience abdominal hernias and more than a third eventually succumb to liver cancer, believed to be associated with the bile-extraction process.

Rescue centers[edit]

China has two moon bear rescue centers, one in the Sichuan province and one in the Yunnan province. The rescue centers have already rescued about 300 moon bears. The bears are kept at the rescue centers where they are allowed to run around and play. The rescue centers not only rescue bile bears, but also rescue some brown bears, dogs, cats, etc. The rescue center was opened by Jill Robinson from England.[citation needed]

Animal welfare advocates claim that bear bile is not needed to make TCM or other products as many herbs, such as coptis or rhubarb, can be used as alternatives for bear bile.[citation needed]

Implications for conservation[edit]

Officially, 7,600 captive bears are farmed in China. According to Chinese officials, 10,000 wild bears would need to be killed each year to produce as much bile.[20] Government officials see farming as a reasonable answer to the loss of wild bears from poaching and are insouciant about animal welfare concerns. However, the government's agreement to allow the rescue of 500 bears may represent a softening of this stance.[21]

A 2015 report indicated that the illegal trade in bear bile and gall bladder for traditional medicine is open and widespread across Malaysia and is potentially a serious threat to wild bears. In a survey of 365 traditional medicine shops across Malaysia, 175 (48%) claimed to be selling bear gall bladders and medicinal products containing bear bile.[22]

Some supporters of bile bear farms argue, "Wildlife farming offers, at first glance, an intuitively satisfying solution: a legal trade can in principle be created by farming animals to assuage demand for wild animals which thus need not be harvested."[23]

Nonetheless, bears continue to be hunted in the wild to supply the bile farms. A survey in 2000 reported that almost all of the farms in the study supplemented their captive population of bile bears with wild-caught bears.[24] This is claimed to be necessary because of difficulties with captive breeding.[6] Consumers of bear bile have a strong preference for bile produced from wild bears; bile from farms may, therefore, not be a perfect substitute for bile from wild bears.[23] Bear farming in Laos may be increasing the incentive to poach wild bears.[25]

A review of multiple types of wildlife tourist attractions concluded that bile bear farms had negative impacts on both animal welfare and conservation.[26]


Wild population[edit]

No definitive estimate has been given of the number of Asian black bears in the wild. Although their reliability is unclear, rangewide estimates of 5–6,000 bears have been presented by Russian biologists. Rough density estimates without corroborating methods or data have been made in India and Pakistan, resulting in estimates of 7–9,000 in India and 1,000 in Pakistan. Unsubstantiated estimates from China give varying estimates between 15,000 and 46,000, with a government estimate of 28,000.[2] Some estimates put the total Asian population as low as 25,000.[citation needed]

The world population of Asiatic black bears decreased between 30% to 49% between 1980 and 2010.[27]

Farmed population[edit]

The World Society for the Protection of Animals has been reported in 2011 as saying that more than 12,000 bears are currently estimated to be housed in both illegal and legal bear farms across Asia.[28]


World Animal Protection conducted a study in 1999 and 2000, and estimated that 247 bear bile farms in China were holding 7,002 bears, though the Chinese government called the figures "pure speculation."[citation needed] The Chinese consider bear farms a way to reduce the demand on the wild bear population. Officially, 7,600 captive bears are farmed in China. According to Chinese officials, 10,000 wild bears would need to be killed each year to produce as much bile.[29] The government sees farming as a reasonable answer to the loss of wild bears from poaching. However, the government's agreement to allow the rescue of 500 bears may represent a softening of this stance.[citation needed]

China has repeatedly been found to be the main source of bear bile products on sale throughout South-East Asia; this international trade in their parts and derivatives is strictly prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.[citation needed] In 2010, there were approximately 97 establishments in China keeping bile bears.[15]

In 2013, estimates of bears kept in cages in China for bile production range from 9,000[30] to 20,000 bears on nearly 100 domestic bear farms.[7] One company (Fujian Guizhen Tang Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd) alone has more than 400 black bears to supply bile using the free drip method. The bile is harvested twice a day to collect a total of approximately 130 ml from each bear per day.[16]


In 2009, according to the Korean Environment Ministry, 1,374 bears were raised at 74 farms across South Korea. In Korea, it is legal to keep bears for bile and bears older than 10 years old can be harvested for their paws and organs.[8] In 2012, the number of bears in Korean farms have risen to about 1,600.[citation needed]


In Laos, the first farm was established in 2000. The number of farmed bears tripled from 2008 to 2012. In 2012, there were 121 Asiatic black bears and one sun bear on 11 commercial facilities. It is possible that all the bears were wild-caught domestically, or illegally imported internationally. This is in violation of of both National and International law.[25]

In Laos in 2011, bear bile was selling for 120,000 kip (US$15) per ml, half the average monthly wage of 240,000 kip.[28]

Bile products[edit]

Bear bile products come in forms, including pill (top) and liquid (bottom) forms.

The monetary value of the bile comes from the traditional prescription of bear bile by doctors practicing traditional Chinese medicine. Bear bile contains ursodeoxycholic acid. It is purchased and consumed to treat hemorrhoids, sore throats, sores, bruising, muscle ailments, sprains, epilepsy, reduce fever, improve eyesight, break down gall stones, act as an anti-inflammatory, reduce the effects of overconsumption of alcohol, and to 'clear' the liver.[7][10] It is currently found in various forms for sale including whole gall bladders, raw bile, pills, powder, flakes, and ointment.[10]

Because only minute amounts of bile are used in TCM, a total of 500 kg[citation needed] of bear bile is used by practitioners every year, but according to WSPA, more than 7,000 kg[citation needed] are being produced. The surplus is being used in other inessential products such as throat lozenges, shampoo, toothpaste, wine, tea, eyedrops, and general tonics.[10][30]


Bile products have absolutely no medical efficacy; it is theoretically impossible for them to have the efficacy claimed by Chinese herbalists. It has been stated, "These products have absolutely no benefit to health"[30] and "Scientists have scrutinized the health effects of bear bile but have come to no definitive conclusions".[7]


Raw bile can sell for as much as US$24,000 a kilogram, about half the price of gold.[7]

A report published in 2013 stated that a poacher in North America can usually get US$100 to $150 for a gall bladder, but the organs can fetch $5,000 to $10,000 in the end-market once they are processed into a powder. The report also stated that the HSUS indicated a bear gall bladder can cost more than $3,000 in Asia.[31] A TRAFFIC report estimated that prices for whole gall bladders were as low as $51.11 (Myanmar) and as high as $2,000 (Hong Kong SAR). For gall bladder by the gram, the least expensive was $0.11 per gram (Thailand) and the highest was $109.70 per gram (Japan).[10]

Pill prices ranged from as low as $0.38 per pill (Malaysia) to $3.83 per pill (Thailand).[10] In the United States of America, it goes around 1 dollar a pill, which is an average price between the two counties


In 2010, the Guizhentang Pharmaceutical Company was one of the most successful bile extraction companies in China, paying some 10 million yuan in taxes.[32] In 2012, the company tried to go public in the Shenzhen stock exchange and proposed to triple the company’s stock of captive bears, from 400 to 1,200.[7] This provoked a large response from those opposed to bear bile farming, and met heavy challenges from activists, internet users and protesters.[33] This was followed by a number of controversies along with public interviews.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Feng, Y.; Siu, K.; Wang, N.; Ng, K. M.; Tsao, S. W.; Nagamatsu, T.; Tong, Y. (2009). "Bear bile: dilemma of traditional medicinal use and animal protection". Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 5 (1): 2. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-5-2. 
  2. ^ a b c Garshelis, D. L. & Steinmetz, R. (IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group) (2008). "Ursus thibetanus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  3. ^ a b Fredriksson, G., Steinmetz, R., Wong, S. & Garshelis, D. L. (IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group) (2008). "Helarctos malayanus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  4. ^ McLellan, B. N., Servheen, C. & Huber, D. (IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group) (2008). "Ursus arctos". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  5. ^ Gong, J. and Harris, R. B. (2006). "The status of bears in China". Understanding Asian Bears to Secure Their Future. Japan Bear Network (compiler),Ibaraki, Japan. pp. 96–101. 
  6. ^ a b c MacGregor, F. (2010). "Inside a bear bile farm in Laos". The Telegraph (London). 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Jacobs, A. (2013). "Folk remedy extracted from captive bears stirs furor in China". The New York Times. Retrieved October 8, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Gwang-lip, M. (2009). "Vietnamese urge Koreans not to travel for bear bile". Korea Jongang Daily. 
  9. ^ Black, R. (2007). "BBC Test kit targets cruel bear trade". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2010-11-18. Retrieved 2010-01-01. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Isaccs, J. R. (2013). "Asian bear farming: breaking the cycle of exploitation". Retrieved October 8, 2013. 
  11. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ a b c d e f Li, P.J. (2004). "China's bear farming and long-term solutions.". Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 7 (1): 71–81. 
  13. ^ "The Humane Society of the United States and Born Free USA Praise Hawaii Governor for Signing Bear Bile Prohibition into Law". June 19, 2012. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c Maas, B. (2000). The veterinary, behavioural and welfare implications of bear farming in Asia (Report). World Society for the Protection of Animals. 
  15. ^ a b c d Malcolm, K.D., McShea, W.J., Van Deelen, T.R., Bacon, H.J., Liu, F., Putman, S., ... and Brown, J.L. (2013). "Analyses of fecal and hair glucocorticoids to evaluate short-and long-term stress and recovery of Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) removed from bile farms in China". General and Comparative Endocrinology 185: 97–106. 
  16. ^ a b Lu, J., Bayne, K. and Wang, J. (2013). "Current status of animal welfare and animal rights in China". Alternatives to Laboratory Animals 41: 351–357. 
  17. ^ U.S. Embassy of China: "Bile Bear Report."[dead link]
  18. ^ "Mother bear kills cub then itself". AsiaOne. 5 August 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  19. ^ "Press Conference on Animal Welfare, Sponsored by the State Council Information Office(12/01/2006)". Embassy of the People's Republic of China. 1 December 2006. Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  20. ^ Parry-Jones, R.; Vincent, A. (1998). "Can we tame wild medicine?". New Scientist 157 (2115): 26. 
  21. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^ Ling, L.S.; Burgess, E.A.; Chng, S.C. (2015). "Hard to bear: An assessment of trade in bear bile and gall bladder in Malaysia". TRAFFIC. 
  23. ^ a b Dutton, A.J.; Hepburn, C.; Macdonald, D.W. (2011). "A stated preference investigation into the Chinese demand for farmed vs. wild bear bile". PLoS ONE 6 (7): e21243. Bibcode:2011PLoSO...621243D. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021243. 
  24. ^ Cite error: The named reference Maars was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  25. ^ a b Livingstone, E. and Shepherd, C.R. (2016). "Bear farms in Lao PDR expand illegally and fail to conserve wild bears". Oryx 50 (01): 176–184. 
  26. ^ Moorhouse, T.P.; Dahlsjö, C.A.; Baker, S.E.; D'Cruze, N.C.; Macdonald, D.W. (2015). "The customer isn't always right—conservation and animal welfare implications of the increasing demand for wildlife tourism". PloS One 10 (10): e0138939. 
  27. ^ Kikuchi, R. (2012). "Captive bears in human–animal welfare conflict: A case study of bile extraction on Asia’s bear farms". Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 25 (1): 55–77. 
  28. ^ a b "Laos: Authorities shut down bear farm that extracted the animal’s bile". SperoNews. 2011. 
  29. ^ Parry-Jones, Rob & Vincent, Amanda (January 3, 1998). "Can we tame wild medicine?" 157 (2115). New Scientist: 26. 
  30. ^ a b c "Cages of shame". Guinness Entertainment Pty Ltd. 2013. Retrieved October 8, 2013. 
  31. ^ Zhao, D. (2013). "Bear gall bladder". Retrieved October 8, 2013. 
  32. ^ "业内人士称受舆论影响归真堂上市前景再生变数 _京华网". Retrieved 2012-02-27. 
  33. ^ "归真堂深圳门店遭"围观" 志愿者扮熊模仿被取胆_网易新闻中心". 2012-02-23. Retrieved 2012-02-27. 
  34. ^ 来源:新华网  发表时间:2012-02-28 11:13. "归真堂创始人哭诉被陷害:早知道这样就不搞上市_理财_金羊网". Retrieved 2012-02-28. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]