In , Vietnam declared a total ban on bear farming and is creating bear sanctuaries for former farm bears. In Korea, in the same year as Vietnam ban, the government announced a policy of allowing the slaughter of bears for their gall bladders from age 10 onwards. Also, activists claim that Korean regulators are not inspecting farms, which are illegally draining bile from live bears. All this may not come up in FTA discussions, but perhaps it should. Many of the bears in these so-called farms — in some cases little more than cages hidden in suburban homes — came from North America.
The Korean government, though it created this industry, has refused to address the existence of these farms — instead actually condoning their operation. Korea has a conflicted relationship with the bear. Despite the brutal treatment meted out to bears in modern-day Korea, the bear has a special place in Korean history. Legend has it that Hwan-ung , the son of Hwan-in who was the God of All and the ruler of Heaven , yearned to live on Earth. His father sent him and 3, helpers to rule Earth and provide humans with great happiness. He named the place Shinshi , City of God.
Along with his ministers of clouds, rain, and wind, he instituted laws and moral codes and taught the humans various arts, medicine, and agriculture. A tiger and a bear living in a cave together prayed to become human. Upon hearing their prayers, Hwan-ung called them to him and gave them 20 cloves of garlic and a bunch of mugwort.
He said they should only eat this sacred food and remain out of the sunlight for days. The tiger gave up and left the cave. However, the bear remained true and after 21 days was transformed into a woman. The bear-woman was very grateful and made offerings to Hwan-ung. However, lacking a companion she soon became sad and prayed for a child.
Hwan-ung took her for his wife and soon she gave birth to a handsome son. They named him Tan-gun, meaning "Altar Prince" or sandalwood. The Korean Moon Bear, also known as the Asiatic Black Bear, has a diet consisting chiefly of fruits and vegetables, honey, and insects. They are regarded as being of no danger to humans unless threatened.
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Their lifespan in the wild is 20 to 40 years. There are only known to be 16 moon bears in the wild at Jiri Mountain. These were released at this location by the Government for their protection as endangered species. But poaching is already prevalent in this area. The majority of moon bears worldwide are located in China, many in the northern and southeastern provinces. The main provinces for bear farming are Heilongjiang and Jilin in the north and Sichuan and Yunan in the southeast.
The last official figures in late is bears on 68 farms — but we fear the true figure could be as high as 10, Previously, the last official figures in were 7, bears on farms: 6, were moon bears, brown bears and 41 sun bears.
Many of the smaller farms have closed and bigger ones merged. Officially all the farms should be legal, as they must be licensed by the Government, although there are probably some smaller illegal, unlicensed farms. In , it became illegal to hunt bears for their parts,under the Chinese Wild Animal Protection Law.
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After , no moon bears were allowed to be caught from the wild for farming — all existing farms are now supposed to breed their bears in captivity. However, over 20 per cent of the farmed bears arriving at Animals Asia's rescue centre are missing limbs, indicating that bears were still being trapped in the wild until quite recently, in direct violation of the existing laws.
Japan, Korea, Vietnam and China have the highest demand for bear bile. The consumers in these countries are predominantly ethnically Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The new method is every bit as cruel and damaging as the older methods. The "free dripping" technique, which was developed just a few years ago, sees a permanent hole, or fistula, drilled into the bear's abdomen and gall bladder.
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During milking, a metal tube is poked into the hole, breaking the membrane, with the bile then allowed to flow out. Not surprisingly, in the unhygienic environment of a bear farm, the hole often becomes badly infected, causing risk of disease or death to the bear. In addition, the hole in the gall bladder often sees bile leaking into the abdomen, causing a slow and agonising death from peritonitis. More information on bile extraction techniques.
Bears are usually milked once or twice a day before meals as this is when the density and viscosity of the bile is higher. About ml is extracted each time. The bile powder produced per bear could be kg each year. Some larger farms claim that they can milk their bears four times a day, but this is unusual. Some farms also milk their bears less frequently than once a day due to the belief that less frequent milking means the bile is of a much superior quality. As of July , bears had been confiscated by the Chinese Government into the care of Animals Asia.
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