Bile bear

Bile bear

A "bile bear" or "battery bear" is the term used for Asiatic black bears kept in captivity in Vietnam and China so that bile may be extracted from them for sale as a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). [ [ Asiatic black bear] ] The bears are also known as "moon bears" because of the cream-colored crescent moon shape on their chest. [1] The Asiatic black bear, the one most commonly used on bear farms, is an endangered species.

Extraction methods

Latex catheter

In a crude surgical procedure, a latex catheter is implanted into the bear’s abdominal wall and gall bladder, where the bile is stored. This method allows 10 and 20 ml of bile to be tapped from each bear twice daily, but is liable to clogging.

Metal jacket

A rubber catheter drains the bile into a fluid bag attached to the bear via a metal jacket. At up to 10kg in weight, this crude device is locked in place for years at a time, leading to infection, hairloss and painful irritation for the bear.

Metal catheter

Similar to the latex catheter method, the bears are forced to lie flat on the bottom of cage for more effective ‘milking’. Often a metal ‘crush’ forces the bears to remain in the flat position permanently, in some horrifying cases for years at a time.

Free Drip

A supposedly more humane method, instead of a catheter, a permanent hole or fistula is punched in the bear’s abdomen and gall bladder, from which bile can freely drip out. This open wound is unsurprisingly, highly liable to infection.

Living conditions

To facilitate the bile milking process, the bears are commonly kept in cramped extraction cages, also known as crush cages. While this allows for easier access to the abdomen, it also prevents the bears from being able to stand upright, and in some extreme cases, move at all. Living up to twenty-five years in this extreme confinement, results in severe cases of mental stress as well as severe muscle atrophy. [U.S. Embassy of China: [ "Bile Bear Report."] ] The World Society for the Protection of Animals reports that investigators saw bears moaning, banging their heads against their cages, and chewing their own paws. The mortality rate is high. Bears in bile farms suffer from a variety of physical problems which include loss of hair, malnutrition, stunted growth, muscle mass loss and often have teeth and claws extracted. [ [ Morality rate] ] When the bears stop producing bile after a few years, they are usually killed for their meat, fur, paws and gall bladders. Bear paws are considered a delicacy.


Population figures for the Moon bears in China are causing concern, with estimates ranging from 50,000 to as low as 16,000. Some estimates put the total Asia-wide population as low as 25,000.

There are estimated to be 4,000 bile bears in Vietnam, where their bile can sell for 100,000 dong (~ US$6.25) a millilitre (with 37,500 dong a week regarded as the poverty line for an urban resident), and around 9,000 bile bears in China. The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) conducted a study in 1999 and 2000, and estimates that there are 247 bile-bear farms in China, holding 7,002 bears, [] though the Chinese government has called the figures "pure speculation." []

In July 2000, Animals Asia Foundation, a Hong-Kong based charity, signed an agreement with the Chinese government to remove 500 endangered Moon Bears from the worst bile farms in Sichuan province, and work towards ending the practice. Today, the China Bear Rescue has placed 219 previously farmed Moon Bears at a Sanctuary in Chengdu, and is helping to advance the concept of animal welfare in China. []

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.Parry-Jones, Rob & Vincent, Amanda. [ "Can we tame wild medicine?"] , "New Scientist", vol 157 issue 2115, January 3, 1998, page 26.] The government sees farming as a reasonable answer to the loss of wild bears from poaching, and at the same time claim insouciance regarding the cruelty issues that concern Western animal rights activists. However, the government's agreement to allow the rescue of 500 bears may represent a softening of this stance. []

Bile trade

The monetary value of the bile comes from the traditional prescription of bear bile by doctors practising traditional Chinese medicine. Bear bile contains ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), which is believed to reduce fever, protect the liver, improve eyesight, break down gallstones, and act as an anti-inflammatory. The high demand for the bile has led to the introduction of intensive farming of bears. Because only minute amounts are used in traditional Chinese medicine, a total of 500 kg of bear bile is used by practitioners every year, but according to WSPA more than 7,000 kg is being produced, with the surplus is being used in non-essential products such as wines, eyedrops, and general tonics.

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." [] However, a 2007 Veterinary Report published by the Animals Asia Foundation 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 Vet Report also stated that surgeries to create free-dripping fistulas 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 fistulas 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 fistulas 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. []


The active therapeutic substance in bear bile--and in the bile of all mammals--is ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA). This acid has been recognized by both Asian and Western physicians for at least 40 years to have benefits for patients with diseases of the liver and biliary system Fact|date=September 2008. Before the manufacture of UDCA by pharmaceutical companies, bear bile was prescribed by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine because it contained a higher percentage of UDCA than the bile of other mammals. However, modern chemistry has made this fact irrelevant. Today, pharmaceutical-grade UDCA is now collected from slaughter houses, then purified and packaged under trade names such as Ursofalk, Actigall, and UrsoForte. These products are approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). Chinese doctors have also endorsed several herbal substitutes, which provide a cheap, effective and readily available alternative.

Substances in mammalian bile other than UDCA, such as cholesterol, have never been demonstrated to have any healing effect in humans. Despite this observation and the availability of affordable pharmaceutical-grade UDCA, some practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine continue to prescribe whole bear bile for their patients and reject any sort of modern substitute. [] These individuals drive the market demand for bear bile and pressure the Chinese government to continue the practice of bear farming.


There is currently a petition on the 10 Downing Street e-petition site to pressure the Chinese government to stop battery bear farming [ [ Petition to: Pressure the Chinese government to stop Moon Bear bile extraction ] ]



* [,11917,1589415,00.html "Torment of the moon bears"] by Pat Sinclair, "The Guardian", October 11, 2005, retrieved October 18, 2005
* [ Chinese government attends official opening of Animals Asia's Moon bear rescue centre ..."] Animals Asia Foundation press release, December 2002, retrieved October 18, 2005
* [ "The Trade in Bear Bile"] , World Society for the Protection of Animals, 2000, retrieved October 18, 2005
* [ Press Conference on Animal Welfare] , Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland, January 12, 2006
* [] , by Eric Busch MD and James Riopelle MD

See also

*Jill Robinson

Further reading

*McLaughlin, Kathleen E. [ "Freeing China's Caged Bile Bears"] , "San Francisco Chronicle", April 25, 2005
* ["Bear Farming - an introduction into the animal welfare issues"] The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)
* [ Animals Asia Foundation]
* []
* []

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