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Captive Bears in Asia. Hundrets beeing killed?

Vietnamese #farmers could kill hundreds of captive bears as the country’s farmed #bear #bile industry collapses.

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Bear #bile, a digestive fluid secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, is coveted by some in #China and other #Asian countries, where traditional medicine practioners advertise it as a #cure for everything from #hangovers to #cancer. Studies have shown bear bile actually can be an effective #treatment for some liver #conditions, but its active ingredient is already #manufactured synthetically.

The #study, published July 4 in the journal Oryx, found that Vietnamese bear bile #producers have spent nearly 90 #percent less on food for their bears since the price of farmed #bile began falling in 2010. Anecdotal #reports of bears starving to death in Vietnamese bile farms supported their #findings. Free The #Bears now fears that a mass die-off of Vietnam’s remaining captive bears is #imminent.

Government-sanctioned #bear bile farming began in China during the mid-1980s as a #way to reduce poaching of #wild sun bears and Asiatic black bears, both of which are considered vulnerable to #extinction. By #2016 more than 13,000 bears were held in bile farms there and elsewhere in #Asia, including Vietnam, according to the #wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. In Vietnam, efforts to #breed captive #bears have been unsuccessful, and as a result, farms are stocked with wild bears captured by #poachers.

Vietnam banned bear #bile extraction in 2005, but dozens of bear bile #farms are still operating. In 2006, #Vietnam held an estimated 4,000 bears in bile farms. That’s because the ban contained a #provision that allowed existing #farms to keep the bears they already had, on condition that their #owners sign a written promise not to extract #bile from them. This legal loophole, combined with a lack of #enforcement, has allowed the #industry to persist, the study says.

By 2015, however, the number of #bears on farms in Vietnam had #fallen to fewer than 1,300. To find out where the #bears had gone and why, Brian Crudge—research program manager for the #Free The Bears’ Vietnam #division and lead author of the study—along with researchers from the #nonprofit WildAct Vietnam and Vinh #University spent most of 2016 interviewing bear bile producers across the #country.

More than two-thirds of the 66 current and former #producers they questioned said that keeping #bears for bile was no longer #profitable. Just over half claimed they’d shut down #operations during the past two decades. And of those former #producers, half admitted to killing #bears during their farm’s closure.

“I’m not surprised that they no longer see the #value in investing in bear food and that they’re just #killing them off,” Crudge says. “When the #bile is no longer valuable, it becomes unprofitable to keep the #bears, so they #kill them and sell the parts.”

A slaughtered #bear can provide plenty of income for a struggling producer. Their #paws, gallbladders, teeth, and #claws all fetch high prices on the black market. Paws are used in bear paw #soup, considered a delicacy by some, and bear paw #wine; teeth and claws are turned into trinkets and jewelry; and #gallbladders are used to make traditional #medicines.

Bile farms are notoriously #inhumane—bears are typically brought in as cubs and kept in #cages where they can barely move. #Bile is extracted daily from the animals by means of a catheter, which can be #extremely painful, according to #Crudge.

Vietnamese bile #producers attribute the falling demand for farmed bear bile to government #intervention, shifting #consumer trends, and concerns over the potency of farmed bile. Bear bile extracted from #wild bears is #worth up to 12 times more than bile extracted from captive bears, according to producers’ #reports. They attributed this #disparity to the widespread belief that wild bears have higher quality bile than #captive bears. Even so, they said the #price of bear bile, both farmed and wild, has fallen by roughly 13 #percent in recent #years.

“I think the long term #trend is demand is falling, and people who are invested in this #work may be left high and dry,” says Douglas #MacMillan, professor of biodiversity economics at the Durrell #Institute of Conservation and #Ecology at the University of Kent, in England. MacMillan, who was not #involved with the study, says young #Asian consumers aren’t as fond of traditional medicine as their# elders, which helps explain the declining #market for farmed bear bile.

In 2017, #Vietnam solidified its commitment to ending the practice by vowing to #transfer all remaining captive #bears to rescue centers. The bears are usually too traumatized to be returned to the #wild, and with an estimated 900 #bears still in captivity across Vietnam, finding space for them all will be a #challenge. (Related: #Bears Are Being Milked for Bile. Vietnam Pledges to #Rescue Them.)

A rescued #moon bear takes a dip in a pool at a Free The Bears rescue center in #Vietnam.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF FREE THE BEARS

“The best #hope for these bears is that they’ll be rescued, but for that to happen, the #government would have to crack #down quickly,” Crudge says.

Free The #Bears, Animals Asia, and a handful of other #organizations have rescue centers in and around #Vietnam, most of which are at capacity. According to #Crudge, Free The Bears is building an additional rescue #center to accommodate Vietnam’s remaining captive #bears.

Annie Roth is a #freelance writer based in Santa Cruz, California, who uses #journalism to put a spotlight on marginalized #conservation issues. Roth has written for National Geographic, #Science, the San Jose Mercury #News and other publications.

Follow her on Twitter. @AnnieRoth_AtSea

Follow @OneLion_org on Twitter as well as they are helping endangered animals worldwide

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