Bluebottle's Blog: Bears

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Cause And Effect

I do not have a cause. I have known people who have dedicated their lives to a cause, doing volunteer work or campaigning to raise money and awareness for something they strongly believe in, crusading against the odds, yet that isn't me1. There are several things I believe in, such as the preservation of and easy access to items and sites of significant historic importance2, fair treatment of people and animals and keeping Britain, and indeed everywhere else, tidy. But none of those are causes. If asked, I'm forced to admit that I'm a nonconformist without a cause3.

So, acknowledging that I'm not someone who has a cause, why do I spend much time trying to raise money for Animals Asia and their Moon bear appeal? Perhaps it is because I know that it isn't a charity that gets much publicity4, and it isn't a charity that is given as much attention and money as it should do. When I recently did a sponsored walk and told a close family member of my plan to raise money for Animals Asia, his response was to say that he wasn't going to sponsor me because it was an animal charity. In his view, charities raising money for sick children are worthy causes, but when it comes to raising money for other things, then charity begins at home, and cruelty to animals abroad are of little concern.

This isn't a point of view that I can ever agree with - and I know that Douglas Adams, heavily involved in animal preservation as shown by Last Chance To See, was not the sort to stay back and not try to bring animal injustice to light.

So why do Moon Bears need help?

Asiatic Black Bears, known as Moon Bears due to the golden fur crescent they have on their chests, are an endangered species. Only 16,000 bears still live in the wild, and they are listed under Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. They grow up to 6 feet tall and have a placid temperament, eating a browsing diet of fruit, vegetables and occasional insects - not to mention their favourite - honey5.

Sadly the bears are treated cruelly in China and Vietnam. Bears are kept in cages, many are small and prevent the bears from sitting or standing, and some are even so small they are essentially metal straight jackets preventing them from moving. It is also common for the bears to be 'stored' in permanent darkness, given only enough food and drink to keep them alive.

The bears are kept imprisoned for their bile, which is used in Chinese medicine, toiletries and beverages despite there being many cheaper and environmentally friendlier alternatives. The prized ingredient in bear bile, ursodeoxycholic acid, is found in 54 herbal alternatives and can be created easily and cheaply in a laboratory. Bear bile is naturally a clear, yellow, watery liquid, but the bile found in captive moon bears is a black sludgy substance from the moon bears' gall bladder. When the moon bears have been in captivity for a while, their gall bladders often become severely diseased, contaminating the bile with pus, blood and even traces of faeces, making it quite unhealthy for human consumption in any case. The bile is removed from the bears by different methods. One of which is inserting a catheter into the bear's gall bladder, often with a metal jacket trapping the bear to keep the tube in place. Another method, known as free dripping, involves permanently opening holes in the bears' abdomen. In Vietnam it is common to anaesthetise the bears and extract the biles with unsanitary needles.

The bears' attempts to bite through the bars of their cages often irreparably damages their teeth, and their fur is often rubbed off by the enclosing cages. Bears that were trapped in the wild often have missing limbs caused by the traps the hunters use, teeth and claws being removed to make the chain up bears even less of a threat is common, and frequently bears' paws are cut entirely off to prevent their claws from ever regrowing. The bears are deliberately kept on a starvation diet all their captive lives, as hungry bears produce more bile. Bile leaking into the bears' body can cause a slow, agonising death from peritonitis. Liver cancer is also common.

Although removing bears from the wild is now illegal in China, with 18 of China's 31 provinces now bear farm free and bear farming has been illegal since 1992 in Vietnam, the practice continues. Although over 7,000 moon bears in bear farms are known to Chinese officials to live in bear farms in China, Animals Asia suspects that the true figure is over 10,000.

Animals Asia's approach is to encourage those in the trade to voluntarily give up bear farming, compensating farmers who give up the practice and helping them settle into a different trade, whilst opening sanctuaries to look after and care for the bears affected by this trade. At all times they are campaigning to end bear farming in both China and Vietnam, as well as return as animals to the wild where possible.

For more information about this cruel practice, and what you can do to help stop it, visit the Animals Asia website.

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Polar BearWhaling and Whale ProtectionMonkey World Ape Rescue Centre, Dorset, UK
1For a negative and comical view of people with causes, read Charles Dickens' Bleak House.2I recently protested about Southampton Council's plan of selling off artwork in Southampton Gallery as the works of art are owned by Southampton, not Southampton's council, and selling off artworks in order to raise funds to build a bigger art gallery, but having no artworks to put in the larger gallery, does not make sense. I didn't chant the slogan, 'Hands off our arts!' though, as that seemed a bit silly.3I wouldn't describe myself as ever really rebelling against society. Instead, I tend to ignore it, and just go ahead and do things my own way.4Although it was mentioned briefly on the BBC's Tropics Of Cancer recently.5To paraphrase well-known bear expert, Winnie-The-Pooh, "Bears love honey and I'm a moon bear, so I do".

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