The Plight of Asian Moon Bears
April 1, 2013

One of the biggies on my life “to-do” list is to have the opportunity to camp out with Jupiter in the wilderness of northern Maine. It is there that I hope to view, from a safe vantage point, my first black bear in the wild. I’ve seen lots of bears in captivity, but never in the woods or by a stream. Maine has lots of black bears living free and naturally in the wild, but not all of the world’s bears are so fortunate. The Asiatic black bear, for one, faces much peril and is a species that we should all take the time to learn about.

Asiatic black bears are arboreal (tree-dwelling) animals found across most of Asia. They are also known also as Moon bears because of the cream colored, Moon crescent pattern on their chests. As far as bears go, they are considered medium-size, with males averaging 300 lbs. and females around 175 lbs. And, without any doubt, they are incredibly cute, sporting rounded ears sprouting out sideways on either side of their head.

Moon bears are listed as a vulnerable species. This is in large measure due to the deforestation of their habitats across developing Asia. But an even bigger reason is due to hunting of these magnificent animals for fur, bear paws, cubs, and bile. Moon bears, like many mammals, produce bile in their livers and store it in their gallbladders. It is thought in traditional Asian medicine to cure many diseases and ailments.

To keep up with the shockingly high demand for Moon bear bile, thousands of licensed—as well as illegal—bear farms operate in Asia, mainly throughout China and Vietnam. These farms house an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 animals, who are permanently confined to metal cages that are so small that most of the bears cannot stand up or turn around. The bears are in no way humanely cared for. Most are undernourished and unhealthy and do not have the opportunity to live a natural existence. They live their entire lives (up to 22 years!) without normal interactions with other bears and without fresh air, sunlight, or movement. These Moon bears are regularly “milked” for their bile, using a variety of disturbing and painful methods, causing the bears much emotional trauma and physical agony, including life-threatening infections. The bile is then sold through the profitable traditional Asian medicine trade internationally, though the majority stays within China, Vietnam, and South Korea.  And what makes this trade all the more disturbing is the fact that there are plenty of humane options available—including herbal and lab-synthesized products—yet the trade goes on.

Luckily, there has been an increase in education about Moon bears worldwide. Many people who know about the bears’ plight are outraged, which is hard for the Chinese government to ignore. Some of the Moon bears have been released from farms and put into rehabilitation facilities and sanctuaries set up by international animal welfare organizations. Although bear farms are technically illegal in Vietnam, they still exist there and are legal in China. Welfare organizations are also working with Asian doctors to educate them as to the cruelty of acquiring live bear bile and the benefits of humane alternatives. But change is slow and Moon bears need our help now. We all know that animal cruelty should never be tolerated.

Three Thing You Can Do:

1.    READ and EDUCATE OTHERS! Stay informed by reading all you can about the state of Moon bears. Wildlife organizations’ websites, newspaper articles, and scientific papers are all great sources for information. Read all you can and spread the word!
2.    ORGANIZE A FUNDRAISER! It costs a lot of money to rehabilitate rescued Moon bears. Food, comfortable and clean housing, veterinary care, and transportation are all needed to help the bears when they are released. Make posters, have a bake sale, put on a play---get creative and have fun helping. Every penny helps!
3.    START A LETTER WRITING CAMPAIGN OR PETITION! Write to Chinese officials, including the President of China, thanking them for the small steps they have already taken to help Moon bears and asking them to put a stop to Moon bear farms. Ask friends to sign on to your letter, or start a petition asking for the release of more bears. AND AS ALWAYS—BE POLITE ANIMAL ADVOCATES! You can explain in your letters how the world will respect a more humane China.

For More Information:

Animals Asia Foundation

Cages of Shame

International Herald Tribune