In March of 2015, ARM investigators returned from going deep undercover into underground bear bile farms in Hanoi, Vietnam.
This extremely cruel and tortuous industry, despite it’s illegal status within the country, continues to thrive.
Whilst abroad, ARM’s investigators met with Education for Nature – Vietnam (ENV) and Animal’s Asia to discuss the status of where protection of these bears stands, to date. Both of these outstanding organizations have dedicated themselves to fighting for the the welfare of the bears that are subjected to bear bile farming, and have been fighting this battle for several years now. Whilst grand accomplishments have been made thus far, countless bears are still being exposed to the daily torture of extracting their bile for profitable gain.
Whilst undercover, ARM obtained footage from several illegal establishments along the busy strip of Hanoi, where most of Vietnam’s inter city business takes place.
Bear bile harvesting is an ancient tradition in the Asian culture and has been used widely for medicinal purposes to cure many aliments ranging from headaches to epilepsy and even impotency in men. The active ingredient in the bear bile is ursodeoxycholic acid; considered to many as somewhat of a ‘wonder cure.’ However, the use of the bear bile has caused torture and extreme pain to the Asiatic moon and sun bears, who are now endangered and facing extinction.
The ironic fact is that the active ingredient in bear bile has been proven to be identically duplicated both synthetically as well as from various herbs in 54 alternative ways. This knowledge is not being accepted as an alternative to the ‘real deal’ bile.
The unfortunate bears that find themselves held captive on the bear bile farms, are hunted from the nearby forests and sometimes smuggled over the border from Laos. At around the age of three years, the bears are considered full grown and the painful bile extraction begins. The bears are kept in tiny cages for their entire lives on the farm. ARM investigators witnessed bears measuring up to 7ft tall, being restricted with a mere foot on each side of them to be able to move. Many of the bears were showing sever mental instabilities, weaving their heads intestinally and stretching their paws out through the cages, begging to be released!
These cages are designed to restrict any movement so that it makes the ‘milking’ process easier, however because the bears are not even able to turn around, they develop sores and open wounds on their bodies from rubbing on the cages. The bears are forced to undergo painful and dangerous extraction of their bile up to twice daily, using a steel catheter that is embedded into its stomach and sometimes steel corsets, to keep them immobilized. The pain is so excruciating for the bears that during the ‘milking,’ they will thrash uncontrollably, bang their heads against the cages and have even been documented as tearing the flesh from their own paws to try to distract themselves from the torture and pain. Many bears die slowly from infections or liver ailments, including cancer.
At around the ages of five to ten years, a bear will stop producing bile and will then either be left to die or more often than not, slaughtered for their paws or gall bladders, which are still considered delicacies in Asian restaurants where they can reach hundreds of dollars for their consumption.
An estimated 4000 bears are kept illegally in Vietnam’s flourishing bear farms and throughout South-East Asia, in particular China, where a staggering 20,000 bears are held captive in bear bile farms per year!
Milking of bear bile was made illegal in 2005 in Vietnam but still allowed people to keep bears in cages for themselves. This has created a loop hole and instead of putting the practice to an end altogether, this has only created a thriving black market, due to its high demand.
Whilst bear bile tours who once filtrated thousands of tourists each year to witness live viewings of extracting bile have since stopped, there is extensive suspicions that tours still exist for asian tourists. This proved possible during ARM’s visit to Vietnam with an ease to purchase bear bile easily when escorted with asian tour guides.
The practice of Bear Bile milking remains to be legal in both China and Japan.
ARM’s investigations highlighted that this industry still exsists until Government officials of Vietnam and South-East Asia amend existing laws, put an end to bear bile farming and serve harsh penalties for crimes against these defenseless animals.
Animal Advocacy organizations in Asia, such as Animals Asia, have put amazing efforts into creating aapecialized sanctuary for bears who have been rescued from bear bile farms.
ARM is striving to to aide in future investigative and advocacy efforts of more of these exploited animals.