Beijing Olympics 2008: Can We Stop the Abuse Before the Games Begin?

Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) will again be the call to the world's best athletes as they compete in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China. From its politics to the pageantry of the Olympics and its culture to the intense athletic competition, the world will be exposed to China like never before. Yet while the country's poor human rights record may be mentioned, the television networks are unlikely to report on the poor treatment of animals and the environment within the emerging economic superpower. It is a record steeped in blatant cruelty—from the physical and psychological torture of bears to collect their bile to the decimation of wildlife through international trade. In an article series leading up to the event, the AWI Quarterly will expose these issues, with the goal of contributing to the increasing international plea for China to institute improved animal welfare and wildlife managementstandards.

A Brutal Business

As the world's athletes prepare for the 2008 Olympics, over 7,000 bears (mostly Asiatic black bears) continue to endure physical and psychological abuse to satisfy China's demand for bear bile. At only 2 to 3 months of age, cubs born on bear bile farms are taken from their mothers to spend their first few years of life in barren facilities, where they are forced to perform demeaning tricks to entertain farm visitors and customers. By the time they are 3, their lives turn from bad to worse, as their pens are replaced with steel cages and they become bile production machines. Though conditions vary, many farm bears—who can weigh up to 440 pounds—are forced to spend days, weeks, months or even years stuffed into small cages only slightly larger than an average refrigerator to be "milked" for their bile. Only a few "lucky" bears have access to slightly larger separate cages or sterile concrete and steel cages outdoors, in between the daily milking sessions they endure.

Such severe confinement results in stereotypic behaviors, such as rocking, head bobbing, body weaving, cage banging and the tracing of their routes. Physical wounds on the bears' faces, heads, paws and backs are caused by rubbing against the cage bars. The bears' diets are grossly inadequate, and they are deprived access to water because their thirst is used to entice them into the "milking" cages. On some farms, the stench and filth is indescribable, and bears are forced to live in their own excrement. Yet the cruelty is not limited to the consequences of confinement, as the bile extraction process causes severe physical pain. Bears tremble, kick, bite, gnash their teeth, shake their heads, hit their cages and moan during and after the process.

In China, bile is extracted through the surgical implantation of a catheter or the creation of a tissue fistula from the abdominal wall to the gall bladder. The making of a fistula, which the Chinese government claims is humane, requires a rod be inserted into the gall bladder multiple times daily to access the bile. Because veterinarians are not employed by most farms, the surgical procedures are conducted by technicians or farm workers, often in unhygienic conditions, using equipment that is not sterile. The result is festering wounds, severe inflammation and infection, septicemia, peritonitis, formation of huge gallstones, internal abscesses, abdominal hernias—and in all cases, suffering. Not surprisingly, 60 to 80 percent of bears die during or shortly after their initial surgery. Those who survive rarely live longer than 10 years—less than half of their normal life span. Bears who do not succumb to infection or disease are eventually slaughtered for their paws, teeth and other parts. Even some live bears may have their paws cut off when farm customers desire fresh bear paws.

Why Bear Bile?

Bear bile is used by some practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat swelling, inflammation, pain, fever, and liver and eye disorders. Sold in liquid, crystallized and powdered forms and manufactured into a number of medicinal and non-medicinal products, bear bile is more in demand than ever. It has increased in China from 500 kilos per year in the 1980s to 4000 kilos today. With current production exceeding 7000 kilos per year, new products like tonics, shampoos and even wine have been created to use up the surplus. Though the trade in bears and bear products, including bile, is prohibited by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) documented that nearly 60 percent of 694 Traditional Chinese Medicine shops visited in Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, Canada and the United States were illegally selling contrabandbearproducts.

A 2005 WSPA report entitled "Finding Herbal Alternatives to Bear Bile" identified over 40 viable and humane alternatives to ursodeoxycholic acid, the active ingredient in bear bile. In addition, over 100,000 kilograms of a synthetic version of the acid is being consumed in China, Japan and South Korea, with global consumption up to twice that amount. And fortunately, many practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine oppose the use of bear bile. Since alternatives are available and in wide use, China's government has no excuses to allow these cruel farms to remain open. Though thousands of bears remain imprisoned, thanks to the ongoing efforts of organizations and individuals around the world, there is reason to believe this unnecessary and abusive industry may eventually be relegated to a sad footnote in Chinese history.

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Please write a polite letter to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, asking him to continue to promote herbal and synthetic alternatives to bear bile and requesting that China take urgent action to end bear farming before the 2008 Olympics.

The Honorable Zhou Wenzhong
Ambassador of China
2300 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Telephone: (202) 328-2500
Fax: (202) 588-0046
Email: chinaembassy_us@fmprc.gov.cn