Bears on farms face 'thrilling cruelty'
Bears kept on Chinese farms for their bile are suffering barbaric cruelty despite years of attempts by authorities to stem the practice, a Hong Kong-based animal welfare group said on Monday.
"Bear farmers are exploiting, barbarically treating, and killing China's ... highly endangered species," Jill Robinson, chief executive of Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), told a news conference.
Robinson said many bears were still had catheters surgically implanted into their gall bladders although regulators had banned that painful method of bile extraction.
But even an option believed by authorities to be humane, the "free-dripping" technique, caused many health problems as it involved opening holes in their abdomens, she said.
"There exists no humane method of bile extraction from bears on farms in China - and there never can be. The government is being deceived by those who are driven by profit alone - and have put economices ahead of ethics," Robinson said.
"The problem is far from solved and bears continue to suffer prolonged and agonising deaths," Robinson said. "The industry is completely out of control. We appeal to the Chinese government today to listen to the voice of truth and reason."
Bear bile has been harvested for thousands of years in Asia and is believed to cure fever, liver illnesses and sore eyes.
Bear farms began operating in the 1980s after North Korea developed the method of bile tapping with catheters.
The industry mushroomed in China in the early 1990s when the number of captive bears -- most of them believed to be Asiatic Black Bears -- hit 10,000 on 480 farms.
But after the cruelty involved in the practice came to light, China introduced regulations in 1993.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners say there are herbs that serve the same purpose as bear bile.
Most the bears on Chinese farms have been caught in the wild, threatening their existence, the group said.
In 2000, China and the AAF agreed to free and rehabilitate 500 captive bears in China's central Sichuan province over five years. But the campaign had saved only 185 animals.
Robinson said the plan was behind schedule because the bears bound for release had more health problems than expected.
"It's going to take at least another couple of years," Robinson said, referring to the completion of the project.