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Article


bear bile farms in China Jill Robinson MBE, Founder & CEO Animals Asia Foundation Meet Jill Robinson ...
providing new hope for Bears

Official opening of the Moon Bear Rescue Centre Official opening of the Moon Bear Rescue Centre
bear bile farms in China Visit Vancouver wrote the first article in Canada bringing attention to the horrific cruelty of Bear Bile farming in China, began an online petition and pressured the Canadian chapter of the WSPA (World Society For The Protection Of Animals) to document and fight for an end to Bear Bile Farming. A letter to the editor of the magazine, Shared Vision, further brought attention to locals of the cruel bear bile practices.

Jill Robinson MBE, Founder & CEO of the Animals Asia Foundation had already started work in 1993 on the China Bear Rescue. Below is a recent interview with Jill and her remarkable accomplishments to help the bears and bring awareness to the Bear Rescue effort.

Jill was interviewed by Felicia Allen in March, 2005. Photos are provided as a courtesy of Animals Asia.
bear bile farms in China bear bile farms in China

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
3-legged Belton takes
his first steps
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.

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
Heather had grown into her coffin cage Heather had grown into her coffin cage
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.

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
Annett, Tiger & Gail operate on Gladly Annett, Tiger & Gail operate on a bear called Gladly
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.

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
Sausage with ulcerated paws on arrival Sausage with ulcerated paws on arrival
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 contraction”.

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 trade.

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 government ?

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 different regulations.

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 practice.

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
Bears playing
Rescued bears playing
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.

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 the bears.

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
A real life Teddy Bear's Picnic! Rescued bears enjoy a real life "Teddy Bear's Picnic"!
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.

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
Prince - resting after another busy day in paradise! Prince - resting after another busy day in paradise!
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.

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: info@animalsasia.org

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.

Help to stop bear bile farming

take action bear bile farming in china Sign a petition to stop this horrific cruelty Sign Petition.

take action bear bile farming in china    Word of mouth gets results!

take action bear bile farming in china Email Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques,
The Embassy of Canada in Beijing, China.
Our Ambassador is the voice of Canadians!

take action bear bile farming in china Support Jill Robinson, Animals Asia Foundation, with a donation.



More on Helping Bears
Article, Bear Bile Farming  ·  Visit Vancouver







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