In May this year Lesley Nicol went out to China to see the work of the Animals Asia charity in Chengdu.
The charity runs two sanctuaries one in Chengdu and one in Vietnam, rescuing bears who have been caged some for as many as 30 + years and harvested for their bile. Bear bile is considered a chinese medicine delicacy said to treat eye conditions, but is also used as a toothpaste and as a hangover cure.
More than 10,000 bears - mainly moon bears, but also sun bears and brown bears are kept on bile farms in China, and around 2,400 in Vietnam. Bile is extracted using various painful, invasive techniques, all of which cause massive infection in the bears. To extract their bile, the bears are drugged and an ultrasound machine is used to locate the gall bladder; their abdomens are then repeatedly jabbed with 4-inch unsterilised needles until the gall bladder is pierced and the bile is pumped out of the bears body.
The wounds from the unsterilised needles cause massive and painful abscesses and the bears suffer severe joint and muscle ailments from their inability to move freely. Farmed bears are kept in tiny cages. In China, the cages are sometimes so small that the bears are unable to turn around or stand on all fours.