POLL: Should bear-bile farming be banned?

POLL: Should bear-bile farming be banned?

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The industry targets mostly sun bears and Asiatic black bears, also known as moon bears, which both get their names from the tuft of white hair on their chests. The bears’ gallbladders contain a yellow liquid—bile—that helps them digest fat.

People have used this bile in Asian medicine for more than a thousand years. Research shows that it can help treat some liver conditions (though alternatives abound), but bile has no proven benefit for other conditions it’s widely sold to fix—everything from cancer to hangovers.

POLL: Should bear-bile farming be banned?
An Asiatic rides on a truck to a sanctuary in Vietnam. It was rescued from an illegal bile farm. Photogrpah by HOANG DINH NAM, AFP, Getty Images

“From a welfare perspective, the bear farms are a nightmare,” Chris Shepherd, the Southeast Asia regional director for TRAFFIC, the network that monitors the wildlife trade, wrote in an email.

The bears are deprived of social interactions and are poorly treated, he said. Some unlucky bears are confined to “crush” cages so tight they can hardly move.

A reporter for the Telegraph described watching a farmer in Laos hoist a drugged bear onto an operating table and tie its paws to each corner before using a “draining apparatus” to withdraw the bile, which he priced at $15 for less than a third of a teaspoon. Other bears live with a catheter permanently hooked up to their gallbladders, according to the Telegraph.

Asian countries have long touted the farms as a way to relieve pressure on wild bears traditionally poached for the bile trade. Korea developed the first one in 1980, and then they became popular in China and Vietnam. Today China, the main consumer of bear bile, keeps more than 10,000 bears in farms, a legal practice in the country.

But in Laos the business is relatively new. When neighboring Vietnam outlawed bile farming in 2006, people began moving their operations over the border to impoverished Laos. Although the Laotian government banned owning, , and capturing wild bears, weak enforcement has enabled illegal farms to thrive. A study found that the number of bears in Laotian bile-extraction facilities had increased from 40 in 2008 to 122 in 2012.

The researchers determined that most of those bears had either been plucked from the wild or transported from Vietnam, where illegal farms tend to use wild stock. No facilities appeared capable of breeding bears, with all but one keeping the animals in individual enclosures. “This industry is likely to contribute to the decline of national wild bear populations by stimulating the market for wild bear bile and increasing the incentive to poach wild bears,” the researchers wrote.

In fact no countries have shown that farms enhance bear conservation, according to the study. Considered vulnerable, both species have vanished from much of their former range—mainly because of habitat destruction and the in bears and their parts. Exact population numbers don’t exist, but today there may be no more than 25,000 Asiatic bears in the wild.

Efforts to increase enforcement capacity are in the works, says Bounmy Savath, deputy director of the Luang Prabang Department of Forestry in Laos. But conservationists rescued a record number of bears this year and worry that the situation will only get worse. “Our concern is that there’s the potential for the industry to explode in Laos,” says Luke Nicholson, Laos program director for Free the Bears.

This article was first published by National Geographic on 05 May 2016.

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Barbara Maat

Superstition and ignorance fuel this horrific practice. This is an Asian horror. And cultural tolerance is not acceptable for such shameful human folly. I see too few men on the list of comments. Where are the men?

Caroline Williams Abuan

Stop the bear bile farm! They should be in the wild.. you dont have the right to make them suffer.. i think you're not human!

Karen Richard

ban this once n for all those poor bears whats with those ppl anyways do they have any drug stores over there ,, they love to cause pain for other living beings stop the from ever doing this again we as a world should have some say ,, after all they just go n live where ever they please asians all over the world

Tammy Granata

Was not aware of this. Why should bears or any other animal be subjected to such conditions? We need need more laws to protect animals. Animals are used for many many years for experiments and then when finally set free and left to fend for themselves, they are not capable of fending for themselves. Very sad not to mention disturbing. The lack of compassion many people have toward animals is actually very scary and tells us a great deal about that person's character, values, etc.

Michele Jankelow

Vile, evil and atrocious!

Joan du Toit

Its time bile bating should be practiced on the ignorant Chinese

Marilyn Ashman


Leigh Lofgren

Oh this is so sickening to read and know that it is going on. Of course it should be banned and when do we stop the stupidity of these "medicines" that are the main cause of our wildlife cruelty, death and destruction?

Susan McGraw Keber

This is a vile and cruel business and all should be banned globally. All bears should be given a life of quality and should be given to sanctuaries. This is so hideous a practice. Human beings can be evil and this is one practice among thousands to prove that.

Theresa Kemp

What right do we have to imprison and inflict pain and misery for a lifetime on any animal? We do not and the world should open it's eyes and learn some common sense and empathy.

Kathleen Colley

It's a disgusting, barbaric medieval practice that has no basis in fact. Bear bile has been tested in laboratories around theworld and has been found to have NO medicinal properties. It is a horrendously cruel practice, the bears are unable to move, turn around, stand up, for all their lives. A tube is inserted into their stomachs and that stays there permanently, getting infected with bacteria, which spreads into the Bears stomachs. This practice is abominable and must be stopped immediately. China has about 12,000 bears in bile farms.

Heidi Bresilge

They all need to be shut down! It's unfathomable what some humans do to animals!! Horrific!!

Sarada Yadava

Absolutely !

Kim Lyons

its barbaric in this day and age all bile farms should be shut down


can´t vote 🙁