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Bears Kept in Cages by Chinese for their Bile Commit Suicide

Bears kept in tiny cages by the Chinese who harvest their bile have been witnessed starving themselves to death to escape the misery of their captivity.
February 6, 2012 Updated: August 10, 2022
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Bears kept in tiny cages by the Chinese who harvest their bile have been witnessed starving themselves to death to escape the misery of their captivity.

An estimated 12,000 bears are kept in captivity in China and Vietnam for their bile, a digestive juice stored in the gallbladder, which is prized in traditional Chinese medicine.

The bears are often penned in ‘crush cages’, forcing them to lie permanently on their backs and making it easier for the ‘farmer’ to draw the bile through a tube inserted into the bear’s stomach. Now animal rights campaigners claim they have witnessed the creatures deliberately starving themselves to death. Campaigner Louis Ng said that the first time he encountered a bear on ‘hunger strike’ was on a visit to a Laotian bile farm in 2009.

When Mr. Ng, the director of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society in Singapore, visited the farm he discovered a female bear lying motionless in a cage. The owner told him the bear had been refusing food for ten days and was starving herself to death. She died the next day.

Mr. Ng said: ‘The bile is removed from the bear by inserting a catheter tube through a permanent incision in the abdomen and gallbladder. Sometimes a permanently implanted metal tube is used.’

The painful process is generally carried out twice a day. Since the 1980s the number of bears farmed in Asia has increased to around 12,000 as a cost-effective way to meet the demand for ursodeoxycholic acid – the active ingredient in bear bile – which has been used to treat kidney problems and stomach and digestive disorders.

More recently it has been added to non-medicinal products such as wine and shampoo in China. China produces 7,000 kilos of bear bile a year – worth the equivalent of £1.771 a kilo – but only consumes 4,000 kilos. Chris Gee, captive bear campaigns manager for the World Society for the Protection of Animals said: ‘Because of the discrepancies in what is produced compared to what is consumed it is highly likely that the rest is sold on the black market around the world.

“Many rescued bile bears are found with head injuries from repeatedly bashing their heads against their cages. There are now perfectly good synthetic replacements for UDCA and we are campaigning to raise awareness of this.”

Photo: Dan Bennett



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