Just days ago, 19 Asiatic black bears were rescued from an illegal bile farming operation in Vietnam. For six to seven years, the animals were kept in tiny concrete cages, known as 'crush cages'. Usually twice a day, their gall bladders were emptied of bile through a tube implanted in the bear's abdomen, a process thought to be quite painful. Although bear bile milking was banned in Vietnam, there are still an estimated 4,000 bile bears in the country. A Disturbing Discovery
According to Tuan Bendixsen, director of Animals Asia, all the bears rescued from the bile farm were likely caught in the wild. He described the conditions of the bear's cages as "terrible" and is ensuring the animals receive medical attention immediately.
One is blind and two are missing limbs. We also believe that all the bears on this bile farm arrived either as cubs or juveniles. The containers are divided into six or seven compartments with one bear per compartment. This is the first time we've seen bears kept under such bad conditions.
Bile Thought to Be Medicinal
Bear bile has been used in traditional Asian medicine to treat "heat-related" illnesses, such as liver and eye complaints, for thousands of years, reports Vietnam Plus. Historically, the bears were killed in the wild and their gall bladders removed, but in the last thirty years, farmers discovered it was more practical to keep the animals alive and drain the bile as they produce it.
The bile farming operations are notoriously cruel. According to the Humane Society, bile bears suffer numerous health problems related to their confinement, including malnutrition, loss of hair and stunted growth--often the animals teeth and claws are removed as well. When bears fail to produce bile, they are usually killed for their meat or fur.
Bear Bile Milking is Illegal and Lucrative
15 years ago, the Vietnamese government banned bear bile farming, though did little to protect the previously mistreated animals. Former bile farmers were allowed to keep the bears that had once been used for milking to 'display for tourists'.
But, despite being illegal to farm, the bear bile trade is still lucrative in Vietnam--where a single milliliter can fetch $6.25 on the black market.
Undoubtedly, there remains numerous bile farming operations unchecked throughout Vietnam, but Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson believes that the recent rescue of these 19 bears shows a willingness on the part of authorities to enforce the law.