20 September 2012
Categories: Homepage News, Bears Campaign News
Since 2007 Born Free has been supporting the tremendous work being done by Animals Asia Foundation in China and Vietnam, addressing the practice of bear bile farming and other animal welfare issues throughout the region. Last week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) met in the Republic of Korea for its World Conservation Congress, one of the world’s most important conservation events and attended by leaders from government, non-governmental organisations, business, UN agencies and social organisations, passing a resolution addressing the issue of bear bile farming.
Across Asia, thousands of Asiatic black (or moon) bears and sun bears are held captive and milked regularly for their bile through crude catheters or permanently open holes in their abdomens. Despite the availability of inexpensive herbal and synthetic alternatives, bear bile continues to be used in traditional Asian medicine to cure ailments ranging from headaches to haemorrhoids. Bears are confined in cages which vary from agonisingly tiny "crush" cages to larger pens, all of which cause terrible physical and mental suffering. Bears can spend more than 30 years under these conditions.
What has this to do with conservation? The practice of bear farming was conceived as a means of reducing the impact of the use of bear bile on wild populations – the rationale unfortunately applied was that keeping bears on farms and milking them regularly instead of killing wild bears for their gall bladders which contain the bile would reduce the motivation to poach wild bears. However there is no evidence that farming has aided bear conservation and conservationists are concerned that it may in fact be detrimental.
The World Conservation Congress resolution pushes for the closure of bear farms that are stocked with wild bears. Some farms in China apparently have self-perpetuating captive populations; nevertheless, it is not clear how the burgeoning bear farming industry, with new products and advertising, is affecting demand for wild bile. This resolution calls for a thorough, independent analysis of how farming is affecting the market for wild bears: if this investigation uncovers negative, market-driven effects of bear farming on wild bears, it will likely prompt a push to end farming altogether. In preparation for the future, this resolution calls for no further increase in the farmed bear population, and heightened research and promotion of alternatives to bear bile as a medicine.
The resolution also encourages Korea and Vietnam to continue their efforts towards ending bear farming and calls for countries that practice bear farming to work with the IUCN to close down illegal bear farms (those that do not comply with regulations), issue no further licenses or permits for farms, prevent an increase in bear numbers on existing farms, ensure no wild-caught bears are added to farms, conduct research into bear bile substitutes, and to establish a monitoring system to track trends in wild bear populations.
Importantly, the resolution calls for a scientifically independent, peer-reviewed situation analysis into whether all these points have been followed – most notably, how bear farming affects the conservation of wild bears. A report will be made to the next World Conservation Congress in 2016, possibly prompting further action at that time.
Jill Robinson MBE, Founder & CEO of Animals Asia commented: “The bear bile industry has been put on notice by the international community that its effects on wild bear populations are now under scrutiny and we hope to see the monitoring process beginning soon. With the conservation aspect now being fully addressed in the public arena, we are determined to continue exposing the welfare reality for thousands of bears held captive for decades on farms, with their bile extracted through open wounds cut into their gall bladders. We look forward to the day this suffering ends.”
Read the full IUCN Resolution here