South Korea Announces End to Bear Bile Farms, But Practice Continues Throughout Asia

South Korea has reached an agreement with animal rights organizations to end the practice of bear bile “farming” and release could be imminent for hundreds of bears held on “farms.” The announcement came at the end of last year and bear rescue groups are working to rescue bears. Bear Bile farming is the the practice of raising bears and draining or removing their gall bladders.

close up photo of grizzly bear
Asian Brown Bears are among the estimated 12,000 bears held on farms.. Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen on

Although the change has been hailed as a step forward there appear to be major loopholes in the law. Korea forbids the use of live bears in bile production, but allows bears more than ten years old to be killed for their gall bladders. Vietnam outlawed the practice more than a decade ago, but allowed the bears to declared “pets” so the practice has continued. A number of organizations are working to end the practice for good. South Korea and Vietnam still have active semi-legal bear farms. China so far has not acted to control the trade and may even be trying to find new uses for bile. But rescue groups are at work within the country.

panda bear eating bamboo leaves in zoo
Giant Pandas are lucky they don’t produce a chemical critical to the bear bile industry Photo by Alotrobo on

Bear bile has medicinal properties recognized in both Eastern and Western medicine. In the west it is known that bear bile is useful in treating kidney problems including stones. But there are many other medicines that offer the same benefits. It has been used traditionally in Asian medicine for quite some time. But recently the bile has been used in questionable products such as tea and toothpaste.

black and white photo of bear on wood
Asian black bears are the most common inmates of bear farmsPhoto by Pixabay on

World wide there are eight species of bears. American black bears and polar bears are out of the region and Giant Pandas do not produce a chemical important to the farmers.

all of the five bears living in Asia can be captured for the trade but the the most common are Asian Black Bears, Sun Bears and Asian Brown Bears. Asian Brown Bears are known in the United States as Grizzly Bears.

Traditionally in both the east and west bears were hunted. Their fur, meat bones, fat and bile were all put to use. In the American west a single black bear supplied much of a families household needs for a winter. Bears were not “farmed” and their bile was not harvested in commercial amounts. In Asia in more recent times bile “farming” was introduced. Hundreds of bears were captured and raised for bile. The gall bladder can be surgically removed, or it can be surgically emptied repeatedly or it can be drained with a kind of catheter.

The surgeries are not professionally handled and cause the bears suffering. There is also risk of infection. The cramped cages and poor living conditions inflict more suffering on the bears. Animal rescue groups such as The Wild Animal Sanctuary are active in animal rescue around the world and will work to relocate the bears.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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