In China, bears are seen as a symbol of strength, power, and courage. They are an animal that has been worshipped and honored for centuries. However, there is a dark side to this honor, as Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners harvest bear bile for human consumption in order to treat a number of illnesses.
The Process of Bear Bile Tapping
In order to abstract the bile, the bears undergo surgery to create a permanent open passage from their gallbladder through their abdomen. These surgeries are often performed with crude and unhygienic tools, by people that are not certified veterinarians.
The bear will then undergo a lifetime spent in a tiny cage, with multiple “bile tapping” sessions per day. Each bile tapping session involves forcing a metal tube through the wound and scar tissue to reach the bile stored in the bear’s gallbladders. Some bears are fitted with metal jackets (Medieval torture-style) to ensure that the catheters stay in place. These bears spend their lifetime in the industry and are often kept in cages for up to 30 years.
The worst part-this barbaric practice is legal in China. Public opinion of the bear-bile industry is becoming increasingly negative, and many people in China are supporting the rescue and rehabilitation of bears.
Meet Tuffy: The Rescued Moon Bear
Luckily, there are groups, like Animals Asia that are working hard to stop this barbaric harvesting industry, and to rescue as many animals as they can, including Tuffy.
Tuffy was rescued in September 2015 after spending years of his life at a bear-bile farm. Because of this, he’s unable to survive in the wild on his own, so he was brought to Animal Asia’s Vietnam Sanctuary.
When he arrived his gallbladder was so damaged that it had to be removed. He also had three fractured teeth removed, and had severely damaged paws from the metal bars that he was forced to stand on during his life on the farm.
One of the great benefits of the sanctuary is the outdoor pool that the bears can swim in. Animals Asia Bear Manager Louise Ellis reports that Tuffy loved being outdoors so much that he didn’t return to the den at night, but instead chose to sleep under the stars.
“It must have felt like such a relief to have the freedom to splash around in the water after only being able to stand on the hard metal bars of the bile farm cage.”
Bear Bile Believed to Have Medicinal Benefits
The bile of a bear is believed to have medicinal value for humans. It’s used in traditional Chinese medicine, but also in household products and cosmetics like shampoo and toothpaste. It can also be found in some wines and teas.
Bear bile is sold in the form of powder, tonic, or pills and is considered to be a cure for acne, hangovers, colds, sore-throats, hemorrhoids, conjunctivitis and even cancer.
Bear Bile Doesn’t Just Harm the Bears – It Harms You Too
This issue isn’t just one affecting China. Demand for bear bile products comes mainly from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan. Bear bile products are also found in Australia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, the US and Canada.
Pathology reports have shown that bile from sick bears is often contaminated with, blood, pus, feces, urine, bacteria and cancer cells.
Black bears (or moon bears) that are held in captivity, suffer greatly and contract many illnesses and diseases because of that. It is reported that almost half of the rescued bear from Animals Asia that have died have had to be euthanized because of liver cancer.
Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson says “A healthy bear’s bile is as fluid as water and ranges in color from bright yellowy-orange to green. Our vets have described bile leaking from the gall bladders of our rescued bears as ‘black sludge’.”
Dr. Wang Sheng Xian, a Chengdu pathologist, who is analyzing the liver’s of bears that have died from liver cancer states: “I would never recommend this kind of drug to my family and friends. I personally think we are better to use alternative drugs and never extract bile from bears … This kind of drug could be harmful to people. There are many effective and affordable synthetic alternatives as well as more than 50 herbal alternatives.”
You Can Put a Stop to This Industry
Don’t use Traditional Chinese Medicine products that use animal products or animal testing. Bear bile can be seen in products like toothpaste, shampoo, and medicine prescribed for gallstones. The active ingredient in bear bile is ursodeoxycholic acid. A synthetic form of the acid, called Actigall, has been created and is now one of the primary medicines to dissolve and prevent gallstones. Be aware of what is going into the products you’re consuming to avoid support of this horrendous industry.
Sign a petition
In a 2011 poll by Animals Asia, a report 87% of Chinese people interviewed disagree with bear bile farming. By signing a petition you will be adding to a large number of people that are against this cruel practice. No voice is too small and no action is too big.
Sadly, bear bile farming is not as commonly known across the world as it should be. By learning as much as you can, and sharing it with the people around you, the word about the cruel practices of this industry will spread, and synthetic medicines with the same effects as bear bile may be more commonly used.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is an excellent healing modality. However, there are some unethical practices that need to be changed. With modern medical advancements, the abstraction of bile from a bear in order to cure illnesses is unnecessarily cruel and should be banned altogether. Humans have taken this beautiful animal and crushed its spirit. It is our responsibility to bring the bears back to their powerful position of strength and courage.
 Animals Asia Associates. (April 19, 2016). Freed From a Bile Farm – Is This the Happiest Bear Ever? Retrieved on September 29, 2017 from https://www.animalsasia.org/us/media/news/news-archive/video-freed-from-a-bile-farm-is-this-the-happiest-bear-ever.html
 Animals Asia Associates. Facts About Bear Bile Farming. Retrieved on September 29, 2017 from https://www.animalsasia.org/intl/end-bear-bile-farming-2017.html?gclid=Cj0KCQjwlMXMBRC1ARIsAKKGuwhLppwz_SGhh9xNfVGTASByjJ-CEPL-unBMzkkoOsVLVRFBtFN1tFIaAubiEALw_wcB
 Kim Todd. Bear Market. Retrieved on September 29, 2017 from https://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/November-December-2002/story_todd_novdec2002.msp