Bears' deaths raise bile concerns

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am

Eight of 28 bears rescued last month from a bile farm in Sichuan had cancer and were dead within a week of being moved, a sign the animals had been tortured and that their bile could be dangerous to consumers, an animal welfare group says.

The farm handed the bears over to the Animals Asia Foundation on March 31 and shut the bile operation in return for money. Six had to be put down to end their suffering.

The group's founder and chairwoman, Jill Robinson, said the bears had died of liver cancer or gall bladder tumours, raising concerns about the risk their bile posed. Bear bile is regarded as a remedy in some Asian countries for ailments associated with the eastern concept of 'heat', such as fever, acne and liver disease.

'I seriously question the quality of the bile and the health of the population that would take the bile,' Ms Robinson said. 'I want the government to take our concern seriously.'

She said the bears arrived at the foundation's Chengdu enclosure in extremely poor health.

'Some of them were semi-conscious, some had ulcerated gums and their paws were cut off. One of them even had an abscess the size of a football on its rump.'

Bile farms have been under fire for their cruel treatment, which involves creating a permanent hole in the bears' abdomens to extract bile, a process that farmers claim to be painless and 'more humane'.

'I am afraid people are laughing at [the idea that the process is painless],' Ms Robinson said. 'It's just simple science, something a 10-year-old child would understand ... The farmers and those who believe them should be ashamed.'

The foundation says it has taken in 247 bears from farms, but Ms Robinson will not say how much money was paid so as to avoid farms trying to bargain with the group.