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Moon Bear Rescue

Animals Asia’s main project is the rescue of 700 Moon Bears from cruel bile farms in China and Vietnam.

The ambitious bear rescue project was hatched in 1993 when Animals Asia’s Founder and CEO, Jill Robinson, a Briton working in animal welfare in Asia, walked onto a bear bile farm in China.

“It was a torture chamber, a hell hole for animals. They literally couldn’t move, they couldn’t stand up, they couldn’t turn around,” she says.

From that day on, Ms Robinson has devoted her life to ending the brutal industry.


© Animals Asia foundation - Jill Robinson in front of a cage

Bears are the only mammals to produce significant amounts of the bile acid, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), which is used by some traditional medicine practitioners in Asia.

Asiatic black bears (known as Moon Bears because of the yellow crescents on their chests) have been killed for their gall bladders for thousands of years, but it is only in the past 20 years or so that some countries in Asia (such as Korea, China and Vietnam) began to search for an alternative to taking an animal from the wild and killing it for the sake of a three-ounce organ.

Entrepreneurial farmers saw that keeping the bears in tiny cages and milking them regularly for their bile would be far more lucrative. Today more than 10,000 Moon Bears are trapped in farms throughout China and Vietnam, the two countries in which Animals Asia’s rescue project operates.

The bears can spent more than 20 years in coffin-sized cages where they are milked regularly for their bile, often through crude, filthy catheters. They are also milked through permanently open holes in their abdomens.

This is the so-called “humane” free-dripping technique. It is the only legal method of bile extraction in China, but still causes constant pain and the slow, agonising death of the bears. The bears are deliberately kept hungry and denied free access to water – this helps to produce more bile.

© Animals Asia Foundation

The bile liquid within bear gall bladders is classed as a “bitter, cold” medicine with the function of expelling heat in the body. It is used to treat heat-related illnesses, such as high temperatures, liver complaints and sore eyes.

Bear bile medicines are used in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other countries across the world with significant Asian populations. While studies have shown it to be effective, today Chinese doctors agree that bear bile can easily be replaced by herbal and synthetic alternatives which are cheaper, more effective and more readily available.

More than 50 herbal alternatives are available.

Of the eight species of bears in the world, all except the giant panda have seen their numbers reduced as a result of the bear bile trade. The Asiatic black bear (Ursus selenarctos) has been most affected by the demand for bile acid.

They are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Appendix I, the most critical category of endangerment. Their range extends from Iran to Japan and across Southeast Asia and it is estimated that there are as few as 16,000 to 25,000 left in the wild.

Methods of bile extraction

China Five brutal methods of bile extraction have been used on China’s bear farms.

Animals Asia’s veterinary team has operated on bears that have been subjected to all of them over the years.

Latex catheter: A rubber tube is surgically fed under the skin from abdomen to thigh and surgically attached to the gall bladder. This method was phased out in the mid-eighties. Metal jacket: A rubber pipe is connected to the gall bladder and a fluid bag inside a metal box.

A metal jacket (weighing more than 10 kilos) holds the box in place under the abdomen. The farmer collects the bile from the bag every couple of weeks.


© Animals Asia Foundation - Metal Jacket


Metal catheter: A metal catheter is surgically implanted into the gall bladder, allowing daily milking of bile. Often a metal grille crushes the bear flat to the bottom of his cage, allowing the farming to immobolise the bear and collect the bile underneath the bars.

Free-drip: A permanent hole is carved into the abdomen and gall bladder. The bile drips freely from the infected hole. Farmers say this method is “humane” and it is permitted by the government. Almost 30% of rescued free-drip bears have abdominal abscesses and most have pus-infected bile.

Fake free-drip: Because the free-drip hole naturally and persistently tries to heal, the farmers are circumventing this process through the insertion of a Perspex catheter, which would be illegal under current regulations. Cut flush with the surface of the abdomen the catheter is all but invisible.

Moon Bears can live to 35 years. Their diet is mostly vegetables, grains, fruits and nuts, but depending on their location, they can also eat insects, small mammals, birds and carrion.

Sadly, farmed bears can never be released back into the wild as their survival skills have been robbed from them and many of the bears that arrive at our sanctuaries are disabled,” Ms Robinson said. “So they will spend the rest of their days in semi-natural enclosures – and this could be for up to 30 years.

” Animals Asia has two Moon Bear Rescue Centres – one in Chendgu, Sichuan Province, China and the other in Tam Dao near Hanoi, Vietnam. Moon Bear Rescue – China

Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue

Centre in Chengdu, Sichuan Province is the focus of our work to end bear farming in China.

The sanctuary, which is a collaborative effort of the AAF team, two levels of government and, importantly, our wonderful supporters, has to date taken more than 247 suffering and endangered bears into its care.


© Animals Asia Foundation


Asiatic black bears (known as Moon Bears because of the golden crescents on their chests) can spend up to 25 years in coffin-sized cages where they are milked daily for their bile, often through crude, filthy catheters. The process is agonising. The bears are also milked through permanently open holes in their abdomens.

This is the so-called “humane” free-dripping technique. It is the only permitted method of bile extraction in China, but still causes constant pain and the slow death of the bears.

The bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine, even though cheap and effective herbal and synthetic alternatives are readily available. In fact, the chinese pharmacopaeia lists more than 50 alternatives to bear bile.

In July 2000, after years of negotiating and lobbying, Jill signed a landmark agreement with the Chinese authorities to rescue 500 Moon Bears and work towards ending the barbaric practice of bear bile farming.

The farmers are compensated financially so they can either retire or set up in another business. Their licences are taken away permanently. Officially, 7,000 bears are still trapped in farms throughout China, but AAF suspects the figure is as high as 10,000.

The rescued bears leave the farms in an appalling state, many suffering from crippling ailments, such as arthritis, peritonitis, weeping ulcers and ingrown claws.
They need surgery to remove their damaged gall bladders, many have broken teeth from years of biting the bars of their cages, a third are missing limbs and all are in a state of severe psychological trauma.

Remarkably though, nearly all of these intelligent, forgiving bears are able to put the past behind them, learning to walk, run, swim, climb and interact with the other rescued bears.

© Animals Asia Foundation


The Chengdu sanctuary, with monthly overheads averaging US$­100,000, requires a constant stream of income.

The foundation employs more than 140 local on-site staff – bear managers, maintenance workers, drivers and horticulturalists, as well as public relations and administrative staff. It also has a highly skilled veterinary team.

Central to the sanctuary is the Education Village – a first for China – where visitors learn about Animals Asia’s message that animals have the right to live free from exploitation and cruelty. Thousands of schoolchildren visit the centre each year.

The costs of running the operation will grow as more bears are saved.

© Animals Asia Foundation


Creation date : 30/04/2008 : 21:01
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