Pete Wed­der­burn

Bray People - - NEWS - Pete WED­DER­BURN

BEARS ARE in­tel­li­gent crea­tures with a spe­cial ap­peal to hu­mans. They have ex­pres­sive eyes and faces, and a hu­man-like way of mov­ing and us­ing their forelegs as “hands”. It's no ac­ci­dent that chil­dren have “teddy bears” as com­fort­ing toys. There are many ex­am­ples of bears in chil­dren's books, from Baloo the bear in the Jun­gle Book to Win­nie-the-Pooh, Padding­ton Bear and many oth­ers.

Of course, the re­al­ity is that bears are wild an­i­mals, no more friendly than lions or tigers. At least, they are meant to be free-liv­ing wild an­i­mals. The sad truth is that in some parts of the world, bears are kept in cap­tiv­ity, ex­ploited by hu­mans.

Bear farm­ing is based on the dis­cov­ery, many cen­turies ago, that bile ex­tracted from the gall blad­der of bears has pow­er­ful phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prop­er­ties. Bear bile was orig­i­nally har­vested from dead bears that had been hunted. It's only in more re­cent times that some­body dis­cov­ered that if bears were kept in cap­tiv­ity, their bile could be har­vested by pok­ing a nee­dle into their ab­domen. This al­lows a bear's bile to be ex­tracted on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions, rather than just ac­quir­ing a one-off sam­ple from a dead bear.

Bile is a di­ges­tive juice, pro­duced by the liver and stored in the gall blad­der: this hap­pens in all mam­mals. When­ever fatty food is eaten, bile is ex­creted from the gall blad­der into the in­testines, where it mixes with the food, as­sist­ing in di­ges­tion.

A bear's gall blad­der con­tains a sig­nif­i­cant vol­ume of bile, and over a thou­sand years ago, tra­di­tional Chi­nese med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers dis­cov­ered that this could be used to treat a range of ill­nesses. Their ob­ser­va­tions were not imag­i­nary. Bile con­tains ur­sodeoxy­cholic acid (UDCA), a chemical that is still used to­day in the treat­ment of liver dis­ease. As a vet prac­tis­ing in the 21st century, I reg­u­larly pre­scribe this chemical for dogs and cats suf­fer­ing from hepati­tis. How­ever the UCDA that I use has been man­u­fac­tured by phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, af­ter ex­trac­tion and pu­rifi­ca­tion from farm an­i­mals that have been killed hu­manely in slaugh­ter houses. It's a by prod­uct of meat pro­duc­tion. There is noth­ing spe­cial about bear bile com­pared to the same prod­uct from cat­tle, pigs and sheep.

De­spite this mod­ern sci­en­tific ap­proach in the Western world, over ten thou­sand bears are still kept on bile farms in China, with around 2,400 suf­fer­ing the same fate in Viet­nam. The bears live in tiny metal cages in in­dus­trial farms, hav­ing the bile reg­u­larly ex­tracted from their gall blad­ders.

The bile ex­trac­tion can be done in var­i­ous ways, but there is no pain­less way of do­ing it. The sim­plest ap­proach is re­peated in­jec­tion, when an ul­tra­sound ma­chine is used to lo­cate the gall blad­der which is then punc­tured with a syringe and nee­dle, suck­ing out the bile. To save time, the per­ma­nent im­plan­ta­tion of a tube through the ab­domen and into the gall blad­der is some­times car­ried out. In other cases, a “free drip” method is used, when a per­ma­nent hole, or fis­tula, is made in the bear's ab­domen and gall blad­der. Bile drips out of this, col­lect­ing in a tray be­neath the bear.

With each of these meth­ods, in­fected wounds and se­ri­ous ill­nesses are com­mon: the life ex­pectancy of farmed bears is only five years, com­pared to thirty years in the wild. In some ways, this short life might be seen as a bless­ing, when you see how the farmed bears suf­fer.

An­i­mals Asia Foun­da­tion, a Hong-Kong based char­ity, has been cam­paign­ing for fif­teen years to end the prac­tice of bear farm­ing. They re­cently vis­ited a bear farm, and sent me a shock­ing video of what they found.

A large, airy shed con­tained around twenty metal cages, sup­ported on metal legs, spaced a few yards apart from one an­other. Each cage was just big enough to en­close the large bear that lives in it.

The bears were Asi­atic Bears, known as “Moon Bears” be­cause of the cres­centshaped white patch on their chest. They are around the size of large pigs: just small enough to fit into the metal cages. There was

“The at­ti­tude of the Chi­nese pub­lic and au­thor­i­ties has be­gun to turn against bear farm­ing”

not even enough space for the bears to turn around. In the video, the bears dis­played stereo­typ­i­cal be­hav­iours, graphic ev­i­dence of the im­mense stress that they were suf­fer­ing. One bear re­peat­edly and con­tin­u­ously chewed at the metal bars in front of him. An­other bear swung his head from side to side, like the pen­du­lum of a clock: there were blood stains on the metal cage from where he had in­jured him­self as he did this.

Thanks to cam­paign­ers, the at­ti­tude of the Chi­nese pub­lic and au­thor­i­ties has be­gun to turn against bear farm­ing, with sur­veys show­ing that 87% now be­lieve that it's wrong and should be made il­le­gal. If this mo­men­tum continues, bear farm­ing will soon be con­signed to the past.

In the mean time, the An­i­mals Asia Foun­da­tion is work­ing hard on the ground, res­cu­ing bears. Last week, a ma­jor vic­tory was an­nounced. A bear bile farm in Nan­ning, China, has agreed to al­low its premises to be con­verted into a bear sanc­tu­ary fol­low­ing an un­prece­dented change of heart by the farm's own­ers. The project will mean a €3.6 mil­lion in­vest­ment by An­i­mals Asia, cov­er­ing the ini­tial res­cue and med­i­cal treat­ment of the bears, fol­lowed by the con­ver­sion of the farm to a sanc­tu­ary, as well as bud­get­ing for three years of bear care.

Fi­nan­cial sup­port is cru­cial to the achieve­ment of goals like the abol­ish­ing of bear farms: if you want to help, visit www.peace­by­p­­i­mal­sa­ to find out more.

Bear farm­ing is based on the dis­cov­ery, many cen­turies ago, that bile ex­tracted from the gall blad­der of bears has pow­er­ful phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prop­er­ties

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