Animal Emotions

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The Bear Bile Industry: Cruelty Can't Stand the Spotlight

The brutal use of moon bears to produce bile gets widespread global attention

I've written before about the brutal abuse of Asiatic moon bears in the bear bile industry (see also) and recently, Jill Robinson MBE, founder and CEO of Animals Asia, and I published a children's book called Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears. For more about Jasper please read "Animals Can Be Ambassadors For Forgiveness, Generosity, Peace, Trust, and Hope". Some bears spend as many as 25-30 years in tiny cages in which they can only move their head and neck with rusty catheters implanted in their gall bladder. You can read more the amazing work done by Animals Asia to rescue moon bears and to end bear farming here.

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Crush cages in which moon bears spend upwards of 30 years

The importance of media: Cruelty can't stand the spotlight

It always amazes me how few people outside of China know about the bear bile industry and when they hear about it they are shocked and often moved to tears because of the utterly inhumane and reprehensible treatment of these amazing sentient bear beings.

But things are changing. On 21 May an essay accompanied by a video was published in the New York Times called "Folk Remedy Extracted From Captive Bears Stirs Furor in China" that tells the story of the horrific treatment to which the bears are exposed and how public protests are helping to make people aware of their plight. Those people interested in animal protection are feeling more free to come out of the woodworks and protest the reprehensible and heartless treatment of bears and other animals and call attention to the fact that despite promises by the government and the bear bile industry, there are not fewer bears being abused than in the past. To wit, "the industry has grown significantly in the 13 years since Chinese officials first pledged to gradually reduce the number of captive bears to 1,500 from 7,000. These days, there are an estimated 20,000 bears on nearly 100 domestic bear farms, an expansion fueled in part by marketing efforts promoting novel uses for bear bile, like a hangover cure for well-to-do businessmen who engage in nightly carousing." For more on bear bile farming see the website for "Cages of Shame" and for more on animal protection in China please see Dr. Peter Li's superb interview for Forbes magazine with Michael Tobias

“It’s brutal and disrespectful to the bears, and a disgrace to the human race”

Moon bears are sentient beings and incredibly sensitive while also physically and emotionally strong. How else could they be rehabilitated from years of egregious pain and suffering? Thus, it's ludicrous and could be laughable (but it's not) to note that Fang Shuting, chairman of the China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine, has "suggested that bears enjoy the process, which he likened to turning on a tap. 'Natural, easy and without pain,' he said. 'After they’re done, the bears can even play happily outside.'” Nothing can be further from the truth, both from what we know about the science of how bears and other animals suffer and also from what we know about how the bears are really locked up for life on the farms.

Guan Zhiling, a youngster who visited the Moon Bear Rescue Centre outside of Chengdu, China, summed the situation up beautifully: “It’s brutal and disrespectful to the bears, and a disgrace to the human race”.

The above photo and the teaser image of Jasper are provided courtesy of Animals Asia. 

Note: To read an interview with Jill Robinson that was just published at Huffington Post please click here

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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