Published 24 August 2012

Bear bile farming poses ongoing threat to wild bear conservation

Kuala Lumpur 24th August 2012—According to experts, the existence of bear bile farms has not reduced the pressure on wild bear populations. Instead, confiscation records indicate that cubs are routinely taken from the wild, especially from Southeast Asia, to stock bear farms, which supply much of the medicines and products in demand throughout Asia. 

The issue of bear farms will be on the agenda at next month’s IUCN World Conservation Congress in Korea after a motion to phase out commercial bear bile farming was tabled for debate at the meeting. 

“The term ‘farm’ is a misleading one, as it implies the bears are being bred and that the trade may be sustainable” says Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and co-chair of the trade expert team of the IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group. “This is absolutely not the case and wild bears continue to be sourced for the extraction of bile.”

Rising prices of wild cubs on the black market indicate a high demand. At the same time, surveys have found that that farms in Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam show low success in breeding bears. Breeding records on Chinese farms are not available to corroborate the claim that they are self-sustaining. There is little evidence to support claims that farms relieve pressure on wild bear populations, given bear populations are in decline in the bear-farming countries in Southeast Asia and China. 

Bile is used as a medicine for specific illnesses, and has a long history in Chinese culture. Consumer demand for wild-sourced bear bile continues to drive poaching with many consumers believing wild bile is more potent and pure. 

Within a decade of farms opening in Lao PDR, demand for wild bear bile skyrocketed, and poachers have taken bears to supply not only this lucrative market, but also to supply farms.

“These facilities are a source of products entering the global black market and are a major driver behind the poaching of wild bears.” says Shepherd. “Such facilities have no demonstrable positive impact on bear conservation.”

The motion before IUCN highlights how bile farming has created a much wider market of consumers who consider this product an essential “tonic” to promote and maintain good health, rather than a medicine to fight illness.

A 2011 report by TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, Pills, Powders, Vials and Flakes: the bear bile trade in Asia, found bear bile extraction facilities to be a major source of illegal products entering the international market, in violation of national laws, and the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). 

The motion to phase out farming of bears for their bile has been submitted for consideration and debate at the coming IUCN World Conservation Congress. Motions are central to IUCN’s governance system and an important means by which Members can influence future directions in the conservation community and seek international support for conservation issues. If adopted by a majority of voting Members, they may take the form of resolutions or recommendations that guide conservation policy and action.

More than 1,000 resolutions have been adopted to date. 173 motions have been entered before the forthcoming Congress that will convene in Jeju, South Korea, on 6th September. 

The IUCN World Conservation Congress is the world’s largest and arguably most important conservation event. Held every four years, it aims to improve how the natural environment is managed for human, social and economic development.
Leaders and experts from government, the public sector, non-governmental organizations, business, UN agencies and social organizations discuss, debate and decide solutions for the world’s most pressing environment and development issues. Next month there are expected to be 6,000 to 8,000 delegates from 150+ countries in attendance.