Just when I think I cannot possibly hear anything more awful that humans have done to animals, I am sadly disappointed to learn that, yes, our species can find even greater cruelties to subject innocent creatures to endure.
A few weeks ago, I heard a story on NPR about animal activists in China who were stopping trucks loaded with dogs headed to butchers to be slaughtered. These activists were buying the dogs and finding sanctuaries for them. Attitudes in China are changing and dogs are no longer considered just “food,” but, rather, companions. Hurrah for that.
I was so deeply troubled by the story and the photos that I saw when investigating how I could help, that I decided to find an organization that actively was working to stop dog butchering in China and send them a donation.
The group I found was Animals Asia.
When I went on the Animals Asia web site, I read about sanctuaries for the dogs rescued from the meat trade. And I also learned about something I had never heard about before: Moon Bears.
Moon Bears. Their name sounds so otherworldly and exotic, conjuring up fairy tale images of creatures frolicking under starlit skies. Their story, however, is something far removed from the realm of magical yarns. Rather, what these majestic animals suffer seems more from the pages of a horror novel.
Moon Bears are Asiatic Black Bears. They are called Moon Bears because of the cream blaze on their chest that looks like a crescent moon. These animals are a threatened species with their numbers falling each year. What I also learned on the Animals Asia web site is that these bears are trapped as babies and kept caged for their entire lives so their bile can be harvested.
And this is where major, heart wrenching cruelty steps in.
As mentioned, these bears are trapped in leg hold traps as babies, so when they are taken to the bile farms, many of them are missing a paw or a limb or are severely injured. They are then placed in extraction or “crush” cages (so called because the top of the cage can be lowered to crush the bear on to the bottom to make it easier to collect bile from them) in which they will live for the rest of their lives-years and years (some bears have been kept alive 20-25 years or more)–until they are either rescued or die. They are never let out of these cages and their legs often no longer work due to muscle atrophy from the horrendous confinement.
Once they are in these cages they often have their teeth and claws removed and then a tube is implanted to “milk the bile” from their gall bladders. In some other cases, the bile is just allowed to drip out from a permanent hole in the gallbladder and abdomen that routinely becomes infected, causes internal bleeding (which often leads to death), and is very painful. The bile farmers dose these bears with antibiotics to keep them alive, so they can continue to harvest the bile.
I won’t go into any more details about this, because just writing these words has brought tears to my eyes. You can read more (if you can take it) on Wikipedia.
You can also read a 2008 NPR story called “Stalking the Moon Bears” HERE. It is no easier to read, however.
The bears are tortured in this manner, because bear bile is prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine. Bear bile contains UDCA, ursodeoxycholic acid, which is thought to reduce fevers, help with eyesight, and protect the liver. UDCA, however, can be obtained in many other ways due to modern chemical methods–methods that make harming these bears unnecessary and unjustified. Still some Chinese doctors refuse to use anything other than the bear bile and so the mutilation and torture of these creatures continues.
When I was online reading about the Moon Bears, I discovered that Animals Asia, and several other places, have safe havens where they take the bears that they purchase from the bile farmers. The bears are then allowed to live out their final days in peace. I ordered a wonderful children’s book, Saving Jasper, which describes the actual rescue of one bear who had lived confined in a crush cage for 15 years. I intend to donate this book to our local library to educate others about something I knew nothing about.
When Jasper and the other bears in the sanctuaries were rescued, they actually had to be cut out of their crush cages. There was no other way to release them, as they are put in the cages with the idea that they will never come out.
The rescued bears require huge amounts of medical care and are often very frightened, at first, of open spaces after living in the tiny cages. Moon bears often stand over six feet tall, but these cages are usually no more than four and a half feet long.
Imagine spending your entire life hunched over, never able to stretch or move your limbs, while being tormented and existing in ceaseless pain with nothing to do all day but crouch in misery, your mind focused only on your condition. Not even sleeping or eating would bring joy. This is the bear’s life.
Sometimes, I’ve had people comment to me: why worry about animals on the other side of the world when there are plenty of animal horror issues close to home? Yes, it is true that there are enough animal issues right here in Ohio to keep me busy writing blog posts for the rest of my life. I hear tons of sad things just dealing with cat rescue.
But the internet has made all of us so connected that thousands of miles disappear with the click of a mouse. We can see and experience things that once were impossible to discover. All of life is joined together and one animal’s suffering is my concern if I can do something to make it stop–whether that suffering is in my own backyard or a dark cage I will never see in person (thankfully) in China.
This connectivity was brought home to me through an NPR story that I paid special attention to a few mornings ago after my readings on the Moon Bears. Black bears in the state of New York (and elsewhere) are now being poached to provide bile and paws (bear paws are a delicacy used in Chinese soups) for Asian pharmacies and restaurants in the United States. This is no longer just an issue far away in China.
Here is the story I heard on NPR about bear poaching in the United States.
While I know, as a pharmacist, that our own pharmaceutical industry mistreats many, many animals (the myriad of animals locked in research labs, for example, and that is without including other non-drug businesses such as puppy mills and factory farms–I could go on and on), I still find the story of the Moon Bears heart breaking. The bears do not need to be treated as they are to provide a substance that can be synthetically made in a lab or processed from plants.
For Mother’s Day this year, I bought my mom a silver pendant of a Moon Bear. I did not go into great detail, but I told her what the bear symbolized–hope. Some day, I believe her necklace will be a reminder of how the world has changed–changed so that animals are no longer made to suffer for human whims and all of the Moon Bears are set free.