New to me but a thriving business in Asia. Bear farming involves raising bears to extract a digestive juice from their gall bladders called bile, a substance used in traditional Asian Medicine for thousands of years, believed to aid ailments ranging from fevers to heart disease.

Asiatic Black Bear, aka. moon bear

The bears most commonly used on bear farms are Asiatic Black Bears known as Moon Bears because of the distinctive white or cream-colored crescent moon shape on their chests. The Asiatic Black Bear is listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Animals.

Moonbears grow four to six feet long. Males weigh from 220 to nearly 500 pounds. Females about half that size.

The species occupies a narrow band from southeastern Iran eastward through Afghanistan and Pakistan, across the foothills of the Himalayas, to Myanmar. It occupies all countries in mainland Southeast Asia except Malaysia. It has a patchy distribution in southern China, and is absent in much of east-central China. A small remnant population exists in South Korea. They also live on the southern islands of Japan and on Taiwan and Hainan

photo: TRAFFIC

The bile is usually extracted twice a day through an implanted tube. The bears can be seen moaning and chewing their paws while being milked. Another method involves pushing a hollow steel stick through the bear’s abdomen. With the “free drip” method a permanent hole or fistula is made in the bear’s abdomen and gall bladder, from which bile drips out freely. The wound is vulnerable to infection and bile can bleed back into the abdomen, causing a high mortality rate. Sometimes the hole is kept open with a catheter, which causes severe pain. Whatever method is used, extraction of the bile is cruel and painful and leaves bears with open weeping wounds that often become infected and inflamed.

Sun Bear Bile Extraction Operation in Mong La, Shan, Myanmar. (photo: Dan Bennett)

To facilitate the bile milking process, the bears are commonly kept in small extraction cages, also known as crush cages which allow for easier access to the abdomen. It also prevents the bears from being able to stand upright, or in some cases move at all. The cages shown here are typical.

Cage sizes differ from facility to facility but none are anything but cruel.

It’s hard to fathom, but bears are confined in these tiny cages for 10–12 years with little to no enrichment.


The obvious result is severe mental stress and muscle atrophy which produces the stereotypical behaviors—swaying, self biting, vocalizing–common to primates and other research animals.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals sent researchers to 11 bile farms. They reported seeing bears moaning, banging their heads against their cages, and chewing their own paws. The mortality rate is high. Bile bears suffer from a variety of physical problems which include loss of hair, malnutrition, stunted growth, muscle mass loss, and often have their teeth and claws extracted. When the bears stop producing bile after a few years, they are usually killed for their meat, fur, paws and gall bladders. Bear paws are considered a delicacy.

The increased availability and marketing of bile due to the growth of bear farming has created a widening demand among consumers who consider the product an essential “tonic” to promote and maintain good health, rather than a medicine simply to fight illness.

product of Sun Bear Bile Extraction Operation in Mong La, Shan, Myanmar (photo: Dan Bennett)

product of Sun Bear Bile Extraction Operation in Mong La, Shan, Myanmar (photo: Dan Bennett)

The term ‘farm’ is a misleading one, as it implies the bears are being bred and that the trade may be sustainable. Wildlife experts with the conservation group TRAFFIC have found this is not the case as many consumers believe wild bile is more potent and pure than “farmed” and cubs are routinely poached from the wild to stock the farms.

The unconscionable cruelty involved in bile farming and the threat it poses to the viability of the Moon Bear population has not gone unnoticed. 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.