Cruel bear bile industry is thriving despite pandemic risks
Our new report reveals the shocking scale of the bile industry and its connections to bear poaching in Canada.
We found illegal bear bile products are still being sold in shops in Toronto and exported to countries in Asia.
Bear bile is the problem, not the cure
Our report, Cruel Cures, comes just days after extremely disappointing news that the Chinese government recommends the use of a bear bile product, alongside a number of plant-based traditional medicines, to treat severe symptoms caused by COVID-19.
This all the more shocking given that the handling of wild animals is believed to be the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. We're calling on the Chinese government to remove any drug that uses bear bile or other wildlife parts and only include plant-based traditional medicines.
A bear cub on a farm in Vietnam. Photo by our partners Education for Nature Vietnam.
A threat to animals and people
Right now, there are approximately 24,000 bears caged and farmed for their bile for traditional medicine products across Asia - in China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Lao PDR and South Korea.
This should ring alarm bells, as 60% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic (transferring from animals to humans), and 70% of these are thought to originate from wild animals. Zoonotic diseases collectively cause over two million human deaths annually.
A life of torture for bears
Bear bile is extracted from live, suffering bears, and is one of the most extreme forms of animal abuse in the world. The bears are largely bred into captivity, trapped in small, barren cages in factory farm style conditions for the duration of their long, miserable lives.
They suffer unthinkable traumas on a regular basis. Most commonly, their bile is drained from their gallbladder using a metal tube through a surgically created opening in the bear’s abdomen. This intense, agonizing process causes bears to moan and quiver throughout.
Bears poached from the wild for the bear bile industry
Bears are still hunted from the wild for their gallbladders and due to a depletion in Asiatic black bears, bears are being hunted in Canada, the US, Russia and Japan.
We are asking governments around the world, including the Canadian government, to support a global ban on the farming and trade of wildlife. Bear gallbladders and bear bile have been trafficked in Canada for decades and there is concern this latest recommendation by the Chinese government will increase the illegal trade here.
Bear bile products still sold in Canadian stores
Our report demonstrates the need to strengthen regulations and enforcement in Canada as bear gallbladders continue to be seized by authorities.
We found illegal bear bile products are still being sold in shops in Toronto and exported to countries in Asia. It is recommended that Canada strengthen legislation to ensure consistent protection for bears across the country and to ensure authorities have the support they need to crack down on the trade and sale of illegal bear bile products.
It’s encouraging to see China and Vietnam ban the consumption of wild animals. But this ban must be extended to include the use of wildlife in traditional medicine, preventing animals such as bears, tigers and pangolins from being abused. Not only will this drastically reduce the human health threat, it will prevent animal suffering too.
Another world is possible
Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, our global head of wildlife research and animal welfare, said: "Our treatment of bears and other wild animals is cruelty and abuse on an industrial scale. It has to end now – by putting in place a comprehensive and permanent ban on wildlife trade, and by closing down all bear bile and wildlife farms.
Using wildlife in medicine is cruel, unnecessary and a risk to public health. Another world is possible. Plant-based alternatives are available.”
Bear on a farm in Vietnam with fur loss, possible due to stress. Photo by Tim Gerard Baker for World Animal Protection.
We call on the Chinese government to remove bear bile preparations from its recommended list and only endorse plant-based medicines to treat COVID-19 symptoms.
On a global level, we are calling on governments, organizations and nations to unite to end the global trade in wild animals forever.