More than 130 bears living in miserable conditions at a Chinese bile-extraction farm will soon get a significant lifestyle upgrade.
After a yearlong negotiation, Animals Asia Foundation has struck a deal to rescue all of the Asiatic black bears living at Flower World, a state-owned horticulture and landscaping company based in Nanning.
Next month the 28 sickest bears will be making a 745-mile journey to the organization's sanctuary in Chengdu. After that, the foundation plans to convert the Flower World farm into a sanctuary for the remaining bears, a process that will take two years and cost $5 million. That price will also cover the first three years of caring for the bears.
On bile farms, bears, mostly Asiatic brown bears but also sun bears and brown bears, spend most of their lives confined to small, rusty cages where their gall bladders are repeatedly tapped—sometimes up to three times a day—and drained of bile.
The bodily fluid is sold as a component of traditional Asian medicine. The bile doesn't have any real medicinal qualities, but that hasn’t stopped the vile practice. Up to 10,000 bears live on these farms, which can produce as much as 30 tons of powdered bile every year.
Flower World began breeding bears for the bile trade in 2004 but stopped extraction two years ago. "We now believe the bile-extraction process is very cruel,” said Yan Shaohong, Flower World’s general manager. He said the bears appear healthy, but many of them “have inner damage and inflammation, otherwise why do they require so many antibiotics?"
Jill Robinson, Animals Asia founder, praised Yan for his "moral courage" in standing up to the bear-bile trade. Many of the bears suffer from blindness, tooth problems, and "severe behavior" due to their confinement, she said. The 21 bears that had their bile extracted at Flower World will need surgery to remove their damaged gall bladders.
Public opposition to bear-bile farming is on the rise in China. "We understand through surveys and other feedback that the majority of people here do not want bear-bile farming to continue," Robinson said. "In that sense we are providing a sustainable model that shows how bile farms can be converted to sanctuaries and that there is true potential for bear farmers to lead by example in now creating peaceful havens for bile-farmed bears."