Animal rights organisations have long been campaigning to stop the farming of bears for their bile in south east Asia. Fuelled by the demand for bear bile in Chinese medicine, the trade results in bears being subjected to a life of terrible cruelty, where they are kept in small cages, denied their natural lifestyle and diet, and routinely have their bile extracted – an act which obviously causes the bears great discomfort and distress. In the worst cases, bears are left with infected open wounds, and many suffer from liver cancer (a disease related to bile extraction).
The trade is illegal in many parts of south-east Asia, as well as in 20 of the 31 Chinese provinces. Nevertheless – perhaps due to the many uses that is said to have, from calming fever to killing intestinal parasites – the demand for bear bile and gall bladders continues to pose a big problem for the authorities; there is now a criminal underworld which can be hard to penetrate, despite the fact that there are 54 substitutes for bear bile listed in Chinese medicine.
This is a topic which I feel very strongly about, and whilst we were in Laos, Mark and I had the opportunity to visit the Asiatic Black Bear sanctuary, a small rescue centre adjacent to Kuang Si Falls just outside Luang Prabang. The sanctuary, home to 23 bears, was set up by the Lao and Australian governments, and the fund is supported by an Australian organisation. The sanctuary is small and modest, and is easy to visit whilst paying a visit to Kuang Si Falls and the national park which is home to the falls and the sanctuary – a pleasant excursion when you’re in Luang Prabang. For further information on visiting Luang Prabang and Laos, please contact Mark or Amelia.
Animals Asia (www.animalsasia.com), a Hong Kong-based charity founded by Brit Jill Robinson MBE, has made putting a stop to this practice one of its main missions. ‘Moon Bear Rescue’ is one of their pioneering projects, and there are many ways to get involved. Please visit their website for more information. To find petitions, click here.