This is a short case study about the issue of using caged bears to extract bile in China.
The black bears for bile refer to the Asian black ones, which are also called Moon bears because of the handsome golden crescent-shaped hair in their breast. They weigh about 90-200 kg, and live mainly on fruit, vegetable, insects and small animals. Distributing in the whole Asian area from Iran to Japan and to Southeast Asia as one of the eight species of bears, they are listed as one of the first class (Appendix I) protected animals by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna & Flora (CITES) . According to the statistic, at present there exist only about 25,000 Asian black bears in the world, including a few more than 10,000 in China, where they are in the list of the second class protected animals.
In the early 1980s, North Korea invented a new way to attain the precious bear bile, and thus the industry of raising bears appeared. Several years later, with the same procedures and the government’s encouragement, Chinese scientists entered the industry in the Northeast area, Sichuan, Guangdong, etc. Driven by the pursuit for economic profits, a large number of people also set up their private illegal bear factories.
The black bears in the factories have to endure an unbelievably cruel surgical operation. At first people would “dig” a hole in their stomach, and then insert into their gall bladder a several-meter-long tube, which is usually made of metal, to draw out their bile periodically. What’s more, the bears’ bladder would be pulled brutally to the stomach for the sake of convenience.
In private factories this operation is done by non-professionals, without any protection afterwards. Furthermore, their living conditions are incredibly terrible—narrow cages, stuffy rooms, foul air, and unsanitary, scanty food. Many bears’ incisions, therefore, get infected and then putrefied. The horrible environment is so unbearable that some even commit suicide. Therefore, the bears’ death rate is considerably high, and most of them can only live one third of their normal life. Besides, as the bears are closed in the cage since they were very young, some even for a dozen of years, both their physical and mental health is terribly ruined and they will never go back to the open air again.
Is drawing out bile from live bears right? The government and owners of bear factories will say yes. They defend impassionedly that it is an effective measure to protect wild bears, and advocate six reasons. First, it is permitted according to the Wild Animal Protection Law (link) issued by the nation, which reads, “Strengthen resource protection, promote domesticating and breeding wild animals, exploit and utilize them reasonably.” Second, there are abundant black bears distributing in a large area of China. Some say 60,000, some argue 40,000, and others say less than 20,000 are still living. Anyway comparing to other rare animals and European black bears, there are plenty of them. Third, bears may destroy crops, injure livestock animals, and damage human’s benefits. Fourth, bear bile is a treasure of traditional Chinese medicine, and should not be discarded or substituted. Fifth, bile, like milk, blood and semen, is reproducible. Raising bears and drawing out their bile can protect wild bear resource. Sixth, also the last, it can also help create thousands of jobs and make money for people.
However, animal protectors and environment protectors, with the addition of some foreigners will say no. They refute the reasons above one by one. First, if ill-treating animals is accepted to be not right, then it should be taken from reasonable utilization. Second, though there is relatively plentiful black bear resource, there are lots of examples in both China and foreign countries that some resource shrinks from abundant to scanty and then to none. But for J. Robinson, the Asian agency of International Fund of Animal Welfare (IFAW), who dampened the enthusiasm of raising black bears in the previous years, the black bears in China can not have been “plentiful”. Third, it’s not that bears violate human’s benefits, but the converse; because bears do so only after they have lost their own living environment. Fourth, bear bile will be bound to be substituted and discarded. Fifth, drawing out bile from live bears can only stimulate bear bile market and then impoverish the bear resource. Sixth, bears will accordingly be unable to feed the thousands of people, who have to control the development of the industry and gradually shift to other fields.
Still some others hold an ambiguous attitude, for they consider both are right and are unable to prefer either opinion.
If asked which one I will choose from the three opinions above, I will have no hesitation to stand up for the second one. “Drawing out bile from live bears” is an extremely cruel behavior, which violates nature. Look at those bears! They should have been free in the wild world, but now, due to chronic oppression, they are all living in sour spirits and behaving slowly without a hint of savagery! Even so, the raisers are still worried that “they may hurt people”, and thus cut or file off the tips of some bears’ paws, and blunt or even pull off most bears’ teeth. Without teeth for normal chewing, the bears can only get simple porridge as food, or water mixed with some wheat or rice bran and a little bone powder. Imagine what life can the giant beasts lead with so little watery food?
Indeed, from the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, bear bile is a kind of “bitter, cold” medicine, which functions to clear away heat and toxin, cool man’s liver and brighten man’s eyes. It can also be used as a tonic. However, the same functions can be found in lots of other herbal medicine, which is not only cheaper but also easier to get, and thus can substitute bear bile. Nevertheless facts show that due to the chronic influence of the theory that “bear bile is greatly nutritious”, Chinese people would rather buy the tonic made from it with a high price. Therefore, some outlaws driven by profits commit the cruel behavior of drawing out live bears’ bile, regardless of the conscious bears’ pain, at costs of the bears’ freedom and even lives. This behavior should be banned uncompromisingly. But how? In the first place, in order to make those outlaws get nothing from it, we must help people have a correct understanding of bear bile. It has been proven by science that bear bile is actually not so nutritious as people have thought and can be substituted by some other herbal medicine which is much cheaper. Secondly, also more importantly, Chinese people’s cultural values have to be changed. Fang Jing, a retired teacher from Jingshan Middle School in Beijing, says, “The problem to change the fact of making medicine from bear bile is more a cultural value problem than a medical science and technology one…” Yang Ping, a retired teacher from Beijing Light Industry Institute, supports her, “If we can’t get rid of the traditional values and selfish thoughts, then any behavior of ill-treating animals would be regarded as fair and reasonable and legal. I agree with the opinion of Albert Schweitzer, one of the founders of ecological ethnics, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. He said, ‘people should revere all the other lives who own a willing to live as much as they revere their own lives. Only when a man see the same importance in other lives as in his fellowmen, he can be called a real virtuous man.’” In today’s society, culture and science are greatly promoted; I hope that everybody can offer their own kindness, refuse any wild animal products, and take part in various animal-protecting activities, to help those animals return to their beloved forests.