, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 55-77
Date: 09 Oct 2010

Captive Bears in Human–Animal Welfare Conflict: A Case Study of Bile Extraction on Asia’s Bear Farms

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Abstract

Bear bile has long been used in the Asian traditional pharmacopoeia. Bear farming first started in China ~30 years ago in terms of reducing the number of poached bears and ensuring the supply of bear bile. Approximately 13,000 bears are today captivated on Asia’s bear farms: their teeth are broken and the claws are also pulled out for the sake of human safety; the bears are imprisoned in squeeze cages for years; and a catheter is daily inserted into a bear’s gall bladder or a tube is implanted inside its body in order to collect the dripped bile—captive bears moan in severe pain whenever the bile is extracted. When the bears cannot produce sufficient bile, they are often left to die of starvation. It must be impossible to justify the bile extraction from living bears because (1) medicinal/herbal alternatives are similar to bear bile; (2) there is no evidence to suggest that bear farming has any beneficial effects on wild bear populations; and (3) ethical problems lie not only in the painful bile extraction but also the whole lifecycle of captive bears. In conclusion, human welfare (health care) based on traditional medicine is upheld by sacrificing bear welfare. Since a trial calculation suggests that it is economically unfeasible to keep a proper balance between bear welfare and the traditional pharmacopeia, the cultivation of herbal alternatives seems to be a possible solution to phase out bear faming and maintain the practice of traditional medicine in Asia.