Jill, how did you first become involved in the bear bile farming cause and the rescue of the bears?
Her name was Hong - at least that was the name I gave to the first bear I ever
saw on one of China’s notorious “bile extraction” farms in 1993. Going
undercover and joining a group of Japanese tourists, I broke away from the
group and found stairs leading to a basement below the farm. The vision was
shocking – held in crush” cages, were 32 endangered Asiatic Black Bears - called
Moon Bears because of the beautiful yellow crescents on their chests. Nervous
“popping” vocalizations echoed around the room and when I looked at their
damaged bodies I knew why they were afraid. Here were animals which had been
deliberately de-clawed and had their canine teeth brutally hacked away by the
farmer who had taken away their defenses to make them easier to “milk”. Wounds
three feet along their bodies from where they had grown into the cage bars, and
gaping, infected holes from where crude metal catheters protruded, showed how
these gentle, intelligent animals had been “milked”, as machines, for their
entire lives - for medicine in Chinese pharmacaopia which can easily and cheaply
be replaced by herbs.
3-legged Belton takes|
his first steps
At one point I felt something touch my shoulder and spun nervously around to see
a female bear with her arm stretched through the bars of the cage. Naively I
took her paw - and, surprisingly she didn’t rip my arm from the socket, but
simply squeezed my fingers whilst our eyes connected in a moment which crossed
every barrier of species and understanding. Her message was clear, and whilst
today my overwhelming sorrow is of a bear we couldn’t save, Hong – whose name
means bear - became the ambassador for a dream which began the China Bear Rescue.
What is life like for a bear in a bear bile farm?
The tragic extent of bear farming is reflected in each bear’s appalling physical
condition....from Andrew, Freedom, Belton and Frodo who are missing limbs as a
result of being trapped in the wild, to Crystal and Gail whose teeth were
cutback and pawtips brutally sliced off to permanently declaw them - making them
easier to milk”. Injuries from the cage bars run the entire length of their
pain-wracked bodies and head wounds indicate the mental trauma they have endured
over the years, as they repeatedly bang
their heads against the bars in a
frantic attempt to stimulate their intelligent minds. Claws which have grown
over and punctured the delicate pads of their paws because they cannot wear
their claws down as they would in the wild, - and shattered teeth as a result of
frantic bar biting during their yeas of pain and confinement.
Heather had grown into her coffin cage
These bears are milked daily for their bile through rubber latex catheters or
rusting metal catheters implanted deep into their gallbladders, or via
permanently open infected holes in their abdomens through which bile weeps -
known as the “free dripping” technique. The bears live a life of torture before
dying agonizingly slowly as a result of chronic infection.
Each bear that arrives at our door requires hours of major abdominal surgery to
correct the horrendous degradation and butchery inflicted
by the bear farmers.
Sometimes multiple surgeries are required to correct a catalogue of other
problems such as broken and infected teeth, missing and injured eyes, pawless
limbs etc etc.
Annett, Tiger & Gail operate on a bear called Gladly
Are there any improvements, ie more humane methods being used on the
bears than the traditional "metal catheter implant" in bile extractions?
Today, the only extraction method allowed under the
Notice from the Ministry of Forestry is called a free dripping method and is
lauded by the Chinese Government as being "humane". In reality it is anything
but - and is as bad,if not worse than the previously allowed latex catheter or
metal catheter method.
A fistula is created between the gall bladder and the abdominal wall.
This involves opening the gall bladder and either stitching it directly
to a corresponding hole in the abdominal wall, or opening the gall
bladder and creating a tube between this organ and the abdominal wall,
using the abdominal mesentery. The farmer inserts a catheter (either a
rubber feeding tube or a stainless steel hollow probe) into the fistula
once or twice per day to extract bile. If he does not do this regularly
the fistula may heal over.
The bears which arrive at our rescue centre with this method are
literally at death's door. Leakage of bile and pus, massive scarring
around the wound, and draining infected tracts are all evidence against
this ghastly practice - yet still China insists that this method of bile
extraction is humane : as evidenced by a quote by the Beijing CITES
Department Head Dr. Fan Zhiyong who says: "The opening of (the) gall
bladder fistula is similar to the anus and can be blocked by muscle
Sausage with ulcerated paws on arrival
We have also just discovered a new method of bile extraction to
which,it would appear, the government is unaware. We call it the "fake
free dripping method".
Remember, that the regulated free dripping fistula - or
"hole" in the abdomen was previously lauded as a state-of-the-art
technique. In reality the hole would either closes up naturally as the
body attempted to heal, or would be a convenient vector for bacterial
infection and for any dirt and environmental contamination to enter into
the bears body.** *We believe that failure to extract bile, and a high
mortality rate has forced the farmers to think again about how to keep
the hole open and we are now finding a hidden clear perspex catheter
which is almost impossible to detect unless the abdomen is shaved and
examined closely. Remember….the Chinese Govt. are not experts in the
veterinary field and are clearly not catching on to the tricks of the
So much for the farmers claims as we heard in Yunnan – “It is just
like taking milk from cows" or "The bile extraction technique is just
like piercing ears - the bears don't feel any pain".
You have rescued 185 of the bears in the farms. How did you receive the
cooperation of the government and why are more of the over 7000 bears in the
farms not freed? We have heard that one of the main issues is that the
Chinese bear bile farmers will be out of work... and of course, the sale of
bear bile is a lucrative industry?
We have rescued 185 bears since the year 2000 and have 157 living today.
Our projects on site are providing "win win" solutions for animals and the local
community to enjoy. Once a bear farm closes, the farmer returns the original
license to Animals Asia and receives compensation for his bears. No new licenses
are issued, and farmers can never again legally enter this trade. Our Sanctuary
creates jobs and salaries for people who previously had no work, sees the use of
local equipment and materials, and the purchase of local food and produce, for
bears and people alike.
In your view and in conversations with officials in China, is
international protest of bear bile farming having any effect on the Chinese
Yes absolutely. International pressure is fundamental to our work -
particularly in view of the the approach of the Olympic Games in Beijing in
2008. Image is everything to China just now and there is a growing debate
within the high echelons of government and the man/woman in the street, across
the country about this issue and how much it is tarnishing China's reputation.
Any idea what Japan, Taiwan, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore,
the USA and Canada are doing to stop the importation and sale of bear bile?
There are so many rules and regulations = but basically, the sale of bear bile
out of China is illegal. I.e. it is only allowed to be a regulated trade within
China itself. If you see bear bile originating out of China in any one of those
countries you mention, then it has been smuggled out of the country illegally.
All countries have their own regulations regarding the sale of bile from bears
originating in-country - ie USA and Canada where there are a patchwork of
What are some recent developments in stopping the cruel bear bile farming
practices? What more can and should be done?
Clearly to escalate projects aimed at current and potential future
consumers of bear bile. In recognition of this, the team of Animals Asia
presents lectures at Traditional Chinese Medicine Universities across
the country of China, where we see students and teachers signing pledges never to
use or prescribe bear bile -and gradually being persuaded to move away
from all animal part medicines and preparations which are entirely
unnecessary. Today, those same eminent Traditional Chinese medicine
Doctors proudly stand beside us at press conferences and presentations
emphasising why the use of bile is an outdated, cruel and unnecessary
Major corporations too are involving Animals Asia in far reaching
welfare and conservation initiatives across the country and we were
delighted to be chosen by Amway as judges for the launch of a wild
animal protection educational campaign in Southern China last June. The
campaign, supported by Government Departments in no less than nine
provinces, was launched among primary and middle school students -
inspiring them to develop projects which would help protect an
endangered species of their choice.
Rescued bears playing
Education programmes are essential and again at Animals Asia, we
encourage visitors on site to understand why it is so important to
protect and respect Moon Bears for their own sakes, rather than
promoting how they can benefit humankind. We see Chinese people coming
to our education center and sobbing because they’re so ashamed that such
a practice could be happening in the country of their birth. We have
bus loads of students coming to see us, asking, “How can we help, what
can we do to end this horrific industry?”
If people can't come to us, we go to them in the form of roadshows, and
exhibitions, in public shopping malls and university campuses. We have a
variety of promotional programmes including, tv and print
advertisements, billboards - and "Moonie" the giant Moon Bear and Pop
Diva, Karen Mok....the "Madonna" of Asia - appearing together in a
comical but unforgettable partnership which is really spreading the word!
The media in China are particularly supportive of our campaign today and the
climate is so different from a couple of years ago when we had to beg them to
come to our centre. Today we can't keep them away and their stories - all
against the practice of bear farming - are escalating countrywide.
In the past in China, there’s never been a strong consciousness towards
actively promoting and helping animal welfare, but today that’s very
different. The economy is stronger, there's more information available
through various resources such as the Internet, students are organising
green and environmental groups, and evolving a new consciousness of
animal welfare and protection. The energy and passion of these people is
nothing short of fantastic - and will drive the final destruction of the
bear farming industry, I’m sure.
Tell us more about the ongoing work of the Animals Asia Foundation and
All bears need one or several major surgeries lasting many hours - and then
months of follow up care, physiotherapy, gentle integration with new friends,
and encouragement to explore in their dens or venture out into the great
outdoors of an enclosed bamboo forest or rehab centre.
In truth, no-one has dealt with this number of physically and mentally
degraded bears - 30% are missing limbs from being caught in leghold
traps, or have been declawed and detoothed by their previous owners on
the farms, and are unable to be integrated with the more able-bodied
bears. We have massive, dominant males ranging up to 250kgs, down to
tiny, featherlight females weighing less than 50 kgs. The Sanctuary is
divided into Zones which help us to integrate and socialise a wide
variety of affected animals, according to their physical and social
needs. We have a full time bear manager and team on site, plus an
Operant Trainer who teaches bears like brain damaged Rupert to present
his paws for nail clipping or to open his mouth for a dental check-up!
These simple procedures would normally require an anaesthetic, so it
makes sense to train the bears if possible for routine work where
anaesthetics can be avoided.
Rescued bears enjoy a real life "Teddy Bear's Picnic"!
All bears - whether disabled or able bodied also now receive 20
different rotations of enrichment out in their various enclosures over a
ten day period. This means that no morning or afternoon is the same,
which gives them a wonderful variety of sights, sounds and smells to
stimulate and enrich their lives and senses for days on end. Many zoos
around the world appreciate today that bears are highly intelligent and
inquisitive and are very difficult to care for as they become more and
more stereotypic from the lack of interest in their every day lives. Our
sanctuary addresses this problem from the word go and even when in
Recovery Cages for anything up to months at a time recovering from
surgery, they are still receiving ten day rotations of new and different
enrichment and care.
Another element which sets us apart perhaps is long term and caring
consideration for the local community. We bring in local materials and
construct bear dens and facilities on site which use local resources and
local manpower. We employ nearly 70 local Chinese workers, which include
security guards, bear workers, horticultural, maintenance and
administration staff, etc. We're bringing
in local talents that were
beginning to die out such as thatching the den rooves with traditional
thatch, and reinventing skills so that people can take pride in
something that’s very much a community spearheaded project. We’re
putting money in people’s pockets and food in people’s mouths. So the
way of working in China, even if you’re a Westerner, is to think local
and be locally inspired, involving people in the community who will then
become very vocal and supportive advocates for your work and projects.
Prince - resting after another busy day in paradise!
Finally, I think the other way which makes us different is that we
factor in helping the perpetrators of this cruelty as well as the
victims themselves. When a farm closes we compensate the farmer, making
sure that he goes away with money in his pocket to start a new
livelihood. We do not leave anyone impoverished, in acknowledgment that
whilst they’ve been performing a practice which is distasteful to many
people—not only in the West but in China too —the fact is, they’ve been
earning a living from it, and to see these people penniless does not sit
well when you’re working in the country itself. We need to have programs
that are realistic to the local community and the government, as well as
the animals - creating a program of pride.
Certainly, it's satisfying today to see Government officials recognising
that a practice so internationally degraded and criticized can actually
be turned around and gain China praise for doing the right thing. Today,
when we have press conferences, those government officials very proudly
stand next to us and talk about their part in the China Bear Rescue.
Rather surprisingly, but very reassuringly, we hear these officials
actually stating that in the last six years of working with Animals
Asia, their whole mindset has changed—that before, they encouraged bear
farming and believed it was a good thing, and today they do not. Today
they are completely against the practice and want it to end. To me, it’s
a fantastically satisfying program; and makes me very proud;
particularly knowing that people who previously promoted and believed in
bear farming now understand and accept that at long long last, it’s not
a practice that belongs in a civilized country.
How can one become a 'lifelong sponsor' of a rescued bear?
Simply either go on to our website and check out the details there -
www.animalsasia.org, or write an email to us at:
Should we be optimistic about the future for the bears or will the bear
bile farming tradition continue to live on?
I think I've answered this above - we will end bear farming in China.
Sign a petition to stop this horrific cruelty Sign Petition.
Word of mouth gets results!
Email Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques,
The Embassy of Canada in Beijing, China.
Our Ambassador is the voice of Canadians!
Support Jill Robinson, Animals Asia Foundation, with a donation.