Animals Asia (China)

Asiatic black bears, known as “moon bears” because of the beautiful golden crescent on their chest, have long been the victims of the Asian trade in bear bile and body parts, which are used in traditional medicine. On bile farms, bears are imprisoned in tiny metal cages no bigger than their bodies, where they die a slow, agonizing death as the bile from their gall bladders is extracted.

Animals Asia is devoted to ending this barbaric practice and improving the welfare of animals in China and Vietnam. They promote compassion and respect for all animals and work to bring about long-term change by working with — not against — people to find sustainable solutions for all parties. Animals Asia has rescued more than 400 bears, caring for them at its award-winning bear sanctuaries.

The Conservation Issue:

Bear Bile Farming: More than 10,000 bears — mainly moon bears, but also sun bears and brown bears — are kept on bile farms in China, and around 2,400 in Vietnam. The bears are milked regularly for their bile through rusting metal catheters implanted in their gall bladders, or by the “free-dipping” technique, using open holes in their abdomens. These painful, invasive techniques cause massive infection in the bears. Most farmed bears are starved, dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumors that ultimately kill them, but many must live this way for 20 to 30 years. This cruel practice continues despite the availability of a large number of effective and affordable herbal and synthetic alternatives to bear bile.

The Animals Asia Approach:

Bear Rescue and Sanctuary: Animals Asia operates bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam, rescue centers which provide the bears with comfortable dens and semi-natural enclosures where they are able to recover in safety and spend the remaining years of their lives in the company of other bears. During their rehabilitation, the bears’ behavior and well-being are closely monitored through regular health checks and daily observations. This not only ensures that the bears receive the best care possible, but also enables the project’s staff to gather vital scientific evidence on the physical and psychological effects of bile extraction. Reports and papers published by Animals Asia have helped to raise the profile of the moon bear within the scientific community and to increase public awareness of the terrible cruelty involved in the bear bile farming industry. The sanctuaries also provide direct employment for over 250 Chinese and Vietnamese people in areas such as bear care, horticulture, food preparation and security.

Ending Bear Bile Farming: Animals Asia works to end the practice of bear bile farming in a number of ways:

  • Reducing Demand: The project engages with the traditional medicine community and other users of bile to promote herbal and synthetic alternatives. Their Healing without Harm campaign targets practitioners of traditional medicine, pharmacists and pharmacy chains. They also work with medical specialists in China and Vietnam to gather evidence on the implications for human health of consuming contaminated bile from diseased farm bears, and engage with doctors to share this information, encouraging them to sign a pledge not to prescribe bear bile.

  • Targeting the Bile Trade: Animals Asia’s field officers monitor changing trends in the trade of bear bile and body parts to maintain up-to-date intelligence on the location, size and workings of the industry. They work with government authorities to track the sale of these products within China and Vietnam and monitor illegal exports. They also fund research into the bile trade, as well as studies on its effects on the wild moon bear population in China.

  • Working to Change Laws and Attitudes: The project engages with government officials, public representatives and policy-makers in China, Vietnam and internationally to build support for an end to bear bile farming. Senior staff members lobby political, business, legal and cultural leaders in Beijing and Hanoi, gathering support for the bears’ cause and developing relationships to gain support from scientific experts, celebrities and influential community members.

  • Public Awareness and Education: Animals Asia runs extensive media campaigns in China and Vietnam to highlight the cruelty of the industry and build public support for an end to bear bile farming. This outreach includes billboard advertising campaigns, social media, and presentations in community centers, schools, and traditional medicine universities. The project engages with the news media in Asia and internationally to ensure wide coverage of the bear bile industry, and partners with celebrities to bring their message to the public. Animals Asia also works with animal welfare groups and university student groups around China to spread knowledge and build compassion for animals through street displays, photo exhibitions, plays and poster art.

The Oakland Zoo's Role:

The Oakland Zoo has fully embraced the efforts of Animals Asia and their work. We support the project through:

  • Grants: Oakland Zoo’s Conservation Grant has provided funds for Animals Asia, and we have hosted the project as part of our Conservation Speaker Series at the Zoo.

  • Projects: Oakland Zoo worked with various organizations to knit mittens for bears to wear during their surgeries.

  • Outreach and Education: Oakland Zoo connects to our public through docent tours and stations, special events and a variety of outreach and education programs with messages about animal welfare and the wildlife trade.

How You Can Help:

  • Email Amy Gotliffe to donate to Oakland Zoo’s funding efforts for Animals Asia.
  • Never buy medicine or other items made with bear bile or bear body parts or buy from shops that sell such items.
  • Ensure your acupuncturists do not use medicines made from bear or any other animal.
  • Visit Animals Asia’s website to see photos and learn more about the project, including its work with dog and cat welfare and zoo animals in Asia.

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