Guizhentang Pharmeceuticals’ plan to expand its operations and become the world’s largest bear farm and bear-bile producer is a troubling sign of how consumer demand for bear-bile products is running rampant across Asia. Earlier this week, the company opened its doors to a group of reporters in an attempt to push forward its IPO application and quell claims that its bile harvesting methods are inhumane. Since the company’s attempt to go public earlier this month, more than 80 public figures have signed a petition opposing its IPO application. WildAid ambassador Yao Ming made headlines this week when he visited the Longqiao Bear Rescue Center, home to bears rescued from factory operations such as Guizhentang.
Although Guizhentang touts that its methods of harvesting bile from bears’ gallbladders are humane, Animal welfare groups and conservation organizations believe otherwise and are out to shut down bear farms across Asia. Captive bears are often kept in small cages to limit their movement and facilitate access to their abdomens, where bile is extracted through a catheter permanently inserted into the bears’ gallbladders. More recently, harvesting operations are using a “free drip” method, in which the bear’s abdomen is surgically cut and a fine tube, approximately 8-centimeters long, is inserted into the incision to allow bile to flow out, and then removed.
Trapped in tiny cages and terrible living conditions, an estimated 10,200 bears reside in bear farms across China. Despite the 2002 listing of the Asiatic Black Bear under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the number of bear farms in China has steadily increased. Domestic trade of bear-bile products is still permitted in China and Japan, where registered bear farms breed captive bears for bile production. Since 2006, the number of registered bear farms in China has jumped from 68 to 98 in 2011.
Bear bile and gallbladders have been used in Traditional Asian Medicine for nearly 3,000 years, believed to cure a range of eye and liver ailments and believed to have life-extending and aphrodisiac qualities. Today, bear-bile products are most commonly found in the form of whole gall bladders and pills in markets across China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. In a 2011 survey of Traditional Chinese Medicine outlets across Asia, TRAFFIC found that most bear-bile products allegedly originated from mainland China.
As China’s largest producer of medicinal bear-bile products, Guizhentang Pharmeceuticals plays a major role in feeding consumer demand for captive-bear products among Asian populations. The company’s expansion of bile production will not only continue to flood the markets with bear-bile products, but may also fuel the growth of bear farms across Asia; as the shelves of Asian pharmacies continue to stay fully stocked with bear-bile products and aggressive marketing tactics are employed, demand for these products will continue to rise as evidenced by growing use of bear bile in skin cosmetics, eye whitening agents, toothpaste, shampoos, wines, and soft drinks.
How you can help:
1) Never buy endangered species products, including bear-bile products
2) Tell your friends and relatives that they may be contributing to the irreversible decline of threatened wildlife populatioins by supporting companies such as Guizhentang
3) Sign our Global Petition for Wildlife and lend your voice to the growing movement around the world to protect our endangered species