Ruth is from Wales and has lived abroad for nearly 10 years, she enjoys her vegan lifestyle, loves animals and hopes to inspire others along the way. Her new blog is up and running at http://ruthculbreth.wordpress.com
I think I have done more research on the Moon Bear (Asiatic Black bear) than I have done on any other animal on the planet. In 2012 I did a blog post about them for a blog site I had, note my relationship with writing has been on and off. However, when I did that I was far more immature in my understanding and also in my research. I wanted to produce a nice blog post without truly understanding what I was finding out about. I read another blog recently from a man who wrote last year about the plight of the Moon Bears, he said that he had found something out that he wish he hadn’t and now he will share it.
I feel the same.
I don’t want to be alone in my agony that this world we live in does what it does to animals every blink of an eye, every second of every day.
When my husband and I had our blessing this year we decided to use donations as favours. My donation was to two animal charities, one of them being Animals Asia, a rescue and rehabilitation charity for Moon Bears. Their site is where I learnt all about the daily agony of the bears on Bear Bile farms.
One must understand when reading this that Bear Bile farms are legal in China initially to protect bears in the wild from being poached, however, wild bear bile actually sells for a lot more money than farmed bile ($16,000/kg compared to $3,000/kg respectively) and loopholes exist that allow bears to be removed from the wild.
The law simply does nothing and it must be eradicated.
Moon Bears are so called because of the beautiful yellow crescent on their chest. They are solitary creatures yet playful and intelligent and pretty damn adorable.
Sadly, they harbour a terrible truth and it lies right in their gut, or more specifically their gall bladder. Bear Bile contains Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA,) which is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for liver and gall bladder problems as a pain-killer or anti-inflammatory, among other things. This ingredient is completely replaceable using both natural herbal ingredients or synthetic ones. However, consuming Bear Bile gives a superficial status which seems to be very important in China.
As I go on, bear in mind that there are approximately 12,000 farmed bears in China and Vietnam combined (not forgetting Korea, which I will return to later, and other parts of Asia which also take part in this business,) and each different farm has different methods of extracting and holding the bears, each just as sordid as the last.
Farmed bears, those that were not killed outright for their gall bladder, are sometimes missing limbs because they were caught in the wild using snares, and spend 10-15 years living in tiny cages getting milked for their bile everyday. Their claws are ripped out and their canine teeth are cut so they can’t instinctively defend themselves, they are starved and the only time they usually see food or fresh water is at time of milking so they are more manageable. Also, bile is produced and used to break down food fats, if the bears rarely eat, there is more bile to collect.
Specially made cages, called crush cages, are sometimes used to crush the bear down to the bottom of the cage to aid in the milking process. Some bears are left in these crush cages for years.
As I said, methods of extraction differ from farm to farm, but each and everyone is as painful and frankly unbelievable as the next. One method involves inserting a metal tube into the bear’s gall bladder, how it got there more than likely caused a lot of discomfort to the bear because it is done without pain relief, probably by the farmer himself and in an unsanitary way.
It should be noted that student veterinarians in China can choose to study in several different ways, from a 3 month animal handling course to a 5 year degree. Once any of these is completed one is a certified veterinarian. If the farmer chooses not to insert the metal tube himself, you can bet he wouldn’t hire a vet with a 5 year degree over one with a 3 month course, money always talks and in this case swears.
This metal tube remains in the gall bladder and each time bile is to be collected a plug is removed and the bile drips into a tray underneath the bear.
In the mid-1990’s, the Chinese government encouraged free-dripping methods which seemed more humane. With this method a tube is made using the bear’s own tissue and the farmer inserts a rubber tube into the hole at milking time to collect the bile.
Two horrendous things arise from the free-dripping method, if the skin naturally starts to heal itself, the farmer will have to force something through the skin to break the seal causing unimaginable pain (red-hot metal probes have been known to be used). Additionally, bile leakage is a regular side effect and causes at the very least terrible burns on the bear’s outer skin and at the very worst peritonitis which is always fatal in these bears.
My blood is boiling as I read that a Chinese representative from CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) stated that the use of the bear’s own skin to make a tube ensures a pain-free bile extraction being as it is similar to the anus. I know who I think is similar to an anus, anus!
If representatives of companies that help endangered animals are both wilfully ignorant and just plain ridiculous, then it is hard to imagine a hopeful finale for the Moon Bears.
As a resident in South Korea, it is difficult for me to ignore the fact that Korea is a major contributor to the Bear Bile industry both through production and black market trade with China.
Bear Bile farming is illegal in Korea but South Korean law allows farmed bears to be slaughtered for their parts at 10 years old.
It seems the government turned a blind eye to the obvious, people are not going to pay to keep bears alive for 10 years without making some kind of profit in the meantime.
There are an estimated 1,800 bears on farms in Korea and the most ironic thing of all is that the bear is legendarily known as the mother of the founder of Korea.
**Hwan-Ung, the son of God, asked to be put on Earth for he longed to live there. So God sent him to Korea. Once there he met a tiger and a bear who desired to become human. Hwan-Ung told them that if they ate only garlic cloves and mugwort for 100 days and lived in darkness, they would then become humans. The tiger gave up but the bear persisted. She became a human!
Hwan-Ung then married the bear and they had a baby together, who went on to become the first king of Korea!**
First point, it is a little bit twisted that a country uses their own legendary symbol of greatness and power as a commodity in this gruesome way. And second, the bear’s persistence, its strength in the face of pure evil, is what is the most unfortunate thing of all.
For over a decade they can survive the traumas and tortures of being machines.
Nevertheless, there is hope for these majestic creatures through the wonderful people at Animals Asia who have rescued over 200 moon bears and go onto heal them, rehabilitate them and love them at their centres both in China and Vietnam.
TCM philosophises that one cause of disease is disharmony between human and environment. If that be the case, these animals must be revered rather than tortured and TCM must publicly denounce the use of bear bile in order to maintain the harmony they so deeply desire.
As a vegan I can only feel that this harmony will come about by living a life free of animal products and therefore free of animal exploitation. The fear, pain, worthlessness and anxiety that all animals are made to face for human greed is unnecessary and detrimental to our own bodies and peace of mind. Consuming with a free conscience is true harmony.
Watch a short video to see first hand Animals Asia’s hard work.
All images from AnimalsAsia.org