In March of 2015, ARM investigators returned from going deep undercover into underground bear bile farms in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Despite its illegal status within the country, this ruthless and tortuous industry continues to thrive.
ENV and Animal’s Asia are outstanding organizations that have dedicated themselves to fighting for the welfare of the bears subjected to bear bile farming and have been fighting this battle for several years now. Nonetheless, countless bears suffer daily torture of extracting their bile for profitable gain.
While undercover, ARM operatives obtained footage from several illegal establishments along the Hanoi’s busy strip, where most of Vietnam’s inter-city business occurs.
Bear bile harvesting is an ancient tradition in the Asian culture used widely for medicinal purposes to cure many ailments ranging from headaches to epilepsy and even impotence in men.
The active ingredient in the bear bile is Ursodeoxycholic acid, which is considered somewhat of a ‘wonder cure.’ However, the bear bile’s use has caused torture and extreme pain to the Asiatic moon and sun bears, who are now endangered and facing extinction.
The irony is, a synthesized product already exists that is identical to the active ingredient in bear bile. Plus, there are various herbs one can use in 54 alternative ways to get a similar effect. Unfortunately, consumers shy away from these alternatives because they are not 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, the bears are considered full-grown, and the painful bile extraction begins. The bears live in tiny cages for their entire lives on the farm.
ARM investigators witnessed bears measuring up to 7ft tall, restricted with a mere foot on each side of them to be able to move. Many of the bears were showing severe mental instabilities, weaving their heads intestinally and stretching their paws out through the cages, begging to be released!
These cages 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 undergo painful and dangerous extraction of their bile up to twice daily, using a steel catheter embedded into its stomach and sometimes steel corsets, to keep them immobilized. The pain is excruciating for the bears during ‘milking,’ they will thrash uncontrollably, bang their heads against the cages, and have even been documented as tearing the flesh from their 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 be left to die. More often, bear bile farmers slaughter the bear to harvest the bear’s paws or gall bladders. Paws and gall bladders are 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, particularly 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, creating a loophole. Instead of ending the practice, this has only created a thriving black market, due to its high demand.
While bear bile tours, once visited by thousands of tourists each year, that offered live viewings of extracting bile have stopped, there are high suspicions that those tours still exist for Asian tourists. ARM discovered this to be correct with their visit to Vietnam with ease in purchasing 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 exists 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 incredible efforts into creating a specialized sanctuary for bears rescued from bear bile farms.
ARM is striving to aide in future investigative and advocacy efforts of more of these exploited animals.