Stop Bear Farming, Bile Extraction from Bears
Stop Bear Farming and Bile Extraction From Bears. Bring in strict and stringent laws to stop the sale of Bile Extraction from Bears.
Chinese animal activists rescued this bear from a
farm in the country's northeast. The bear was
one of 10 found with catheters implanted into
the gall bladder to extract bile.
(Image: Reuters/China Newsphoto)
A diagnostic kit to crack down on illegal trade in bile extracted from live bears is being used by Australian and Canadian customs officers, an animal welfare group says.
Bear bile is a common ingredient in traditional medicines throughout East and Southeast Asia, says the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).
The test kit uses antibodies to detect a signature bear protein and was demonstrated this week at a meeting in The Hague of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which involves 171 nations.
"Interest from wildlife trade enforcement officials has been very strong," says Professor Kate Sanders, an evolutionary biologist who adapted a technique used to identify species in venomous snakebites to develop the kit.
The kits are slated to go on the market at the end of the year and will cost no more than US$40 (A$47), says Sanders, from Australia 's University of Adelaide.
The active compound in bear bile is ursodeoxcholic acid (UDCA) and is thought to be effective for ailments ranging from liver disorders to hemorrhoids to hepatitis.
The compound has been available in a synthetic form for years, say animal rights groups calling for an end to bear farming.
Yet the use of bear bile is still widespread, a WSPA survey released this week shows.
More than half of 130 traditional Asian medicine shops in eight countries investigated illegally-sold products containing bear bile, the survey shows.
The WSPA says most originated from China, where the fluid is drawn off using one of several painful methods from more than 7000 animals held in box-like cages on dozens of farms. The procedure is not illegal in China, but CITES bans all cross-border commerce in bear parts.
The survey of Asian medicine shops in North America and the Asia Pacific region uncovered dozens of illegal bear bile products.
About 15% of the stores investigated in the US and Canada sold the contraband, with the percentage increasing to 22% in Singapore, 33% in Korea, 42% in Taiwan and 75% in Japan.
The methods used to extract the bile from farmed animals varies from one country to the next, but all are condemned by animal welfare groups as cruel.
"In Vietnam, farmers typically immobilise the bears with a paralysing drug, often ketamine," known to recreational drug users as 'special K', says Dave Eastham, head of wildlife for WSPA.
"They use ultrasound to locate the bile and then insert a long hypodermic needle to draw off 100 to 150 millilitres of bile," he says, repeating the process once a month. The bears are conscious throughout the process.
"We have tapes showing the bears screaming with apprehension just before the procedure begins," he says.
In China, a more primitive technique has been outlawed but Eastham says it "is still very common".
The bile drips from a tube - surgically inserted through the bear's abdomen- equipped with a tap that can be turned on and off. Extractions are daily, sometimes twice a day.
It is like bleeding sap from a maple tree, "only more painful", he says.
More than half of bears farmed for bile in China do not survive for very long after extraction begins, but those that do can live for up to 10years.
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