Inside China's Torture Chambers
'Inside China's torture chambers' documents the results of an extensive undercover investigation by WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) into China's cruel bear bile farms. It reveals how thousands of bears are kept in horrific conditions in hundreds of farms across China, producing approximately 7000 kg of bear bile every year for the traditional Chinese medicine market.
The new report is being released today in the run-up to the biannual meeting of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Nairobi, Kenya, at which the trade in bear parts will be discussed. A WSPA delegation will be attending the meetings, which will take place from 10-20 April.
WSPA believes that China is planning to register some of its bear bile farms with CITES and thereby circumvent the existing international ban on trade in bear parts. Such a move would hasten the demise of bears in the wild(with many taken from the wild each year to restock the farms) and encourage the continued development of this barbaric form of 'farming'.
Kylie Jones, Regional Manager, WSPA Australia & New Zealand says " We are calling on CITES to reject any attempts by China to legitimise its bear farms. The farming of bears for their bile should be brought to an end as soon as is feasible and CITES should take all efforts to maintain the ban on international trade in bear parts and derivatives."
WSPA investigators found that almost every farm they visited bought bears taken from the wild. The bears are surgically mutilated, often by untrained workers with no veterinary skills, and 'milked' each day for their gall bile. These animals endure the most appalling levels of cruelty and neglect.
Many are wounded and scarred due to the friction caused by being kept in tiny metal cages just about big enough for them to fit into and where they are unable to stand straight. The cages are suspended above the ground, so the bears are forced to lie squashed in their cages on a bed of bars, some with a constant stream of bile seeping from their stomachs, where an open wound allows workers to insert a tube or piece of metal to 'tap' the bile.
Bile is taken from them twice a day, during feeding time (the bears are fed a poor diet of mashed corn with apples, tomatoes and sugar) and this agonising process causes severe distress to the bears. Moaning and banging of heads against the cage is common, while some bears resort to chewing their paws to cope with the pain.
Ms Jones says "China's bear bile farms represent the worst example of battery farming, with wild animals kept in appalling conditions of unimaginable cruelty. This gruesome practice threatens the very survival of wild populations that are already regarded as endangered, with the vigorous marketing of bear bile products across the world having put a price on the head of every living bear."
Mortality rates at the farms are high, between 60-80% dying during or shortly after they are 'operated' on. Those that survive this ordeal rarely live longer than 10 years, about a third of their natural life expectancy in the wild. The mortality rate for cubs bred at the farms is also high, with new mothers commonly eating their offspring.
Bear cubs are taken away from their mothers at just three months of age and may then be trained to perform tricks such as tightrope walking and forced to box for the amusement of visitors to the bear farms.
Once they reach three years of age, the cubs are moved into tiny cages and begin to be farmed for their bile. Bears may stop producing bile after just a few years, after which they outlive their usefulness and are left to die or killed for their paws and gall bladders. A single bear paw may sell for several hundred dollars - almost a year's salary for the average worker in China.
The Chinese government claims that neither bear parts nor products containing bear bile are exported to other countries, as this would violate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and Chinese law. However, WSPA has discovered that bear farms export their products to countries such as Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Bear bile and associated products have also been found for sale at international airports in China, as well as in Chinese communities in many countries worldwide, such as North America and the UK.
In recent years, there has been a dramatic growth in the production of bear bile products, which has spawned a market for a whole new range of items far removed from the formulations of traditional Chinese medicine. Today, bile is used as an ingredient in shampoo, wine, eye drops and all manner of pre- prepared ointments. In 1999, bottles of bear bile wine were even handed out as gifts for passengers on internal flights in China.
For interviews, copies of report, broadcast quality beta footage
and colour transparencies, please contact: Georgina Stephenson,
Publicity Co-ordinator, WSPA Australia & New Zealand
(02) 9901 5277. Full report and pictures also available on the web at: www.wspa.org.uk
Notes for editors
1. WSPA estimates that more than 7000 bears are farmed at 247 official bear bile farms across China, although the true figure is likely to be higher.
2. Estimates of wild bear populations in China range from less than 20,000 (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) to more than 60,000 (China's Ministry of Forestry).
3. WSPA estimates that before 1980, the market demand for bear gall bladder for traditional Chinese medicine in China was only 500 kg per year. However, by 1998 the output of dry bile from farms had risen to 7,000 kg, of which only 4, 000 kg was actually consumed.
4. At an International Symposium on the Trade in Bear Parts held in Seoul last year, Chinese government representatives signalled their intention to attempt to secure permission from the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to trade bear bile products internationally.
5. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was established by the United Nations to regulate the trade in wildlife. The agreement came into force in 1975, and to-date, 150 countries have signed the treaty, including China. All bear species in South East Asia are designated as Appendix I, which prohibits virtually all forms of international trade in animals, body parts or products derived from them.
6. Bear bile is a totally unnecessary product; there are at least 75 herbal alternatives to it as well as a synthetic alternative.
7. Over the last two years, WSPA investigators visited a total of twelve bear farms across six provinces in South East, South West and North East China.