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Saving Moon Bears from Lives of Torture

Chinese bear bile farms are lifelong sentences of torture for many of Asia's Moon Bears. But a lucky few have the chance of a new life in specially built sanctuaries in south China.


The International Fund for Animal Welfare has been working for years to end the practice and give the bears back the dignity they deserve.


Six Moon Bears, or Asiatic black bears now live at this special Bear Sanctuary in Guangdong Province. They spend their days lounging around, playing in pools, eating banana and honey trees, and exploring nearly a hectare of woodland.


These endangered animals are called moon bears because of the white crescent of fur on their chests. But their species is threatened by large numbers being hunted in the wild and used in bear bile farm industry.


Although these bears will never be able to be released back into the wild, they are, at least, now free from fear and pain.


But it used to be a very different story. Holed up in wire cages so small they couldn't move, each bear had a rusty metal catheter inserted into its abdomen - an incision prone to infection. From that, bile was continuously milked for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM.


Bear bile has long been in great demand by TCM practitioners who believe it can help cure a variety of ailments including liver disease, gallstones, and poor eyesight.


But TCM experts now say there are over 50 herbal alternatives, as well synthetic medicines which work just as well.


The IFAW and other animal action groups such as Hong Kong's Animals Asia, are working to eliminate bear bile farming and to promote herbal alternatives.


The Chinese government, in response, closed its first bear bile farm four years ago. It has announced that it has closed the worst farms, has stopped issuing new licenses, and begun accepting suggestions for improving conditions for the remaining captive bears.


The IFAW believes there are still more than four hundred bear bile farms across China. The moon bear's future looks a little brighter, but there is still a long way to go.


(CCTV.com October 8, 2004)

'The Year of the Bear'
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