Moon bears freed after years trapped in cages at bile farm in Vietnam

Five moon bears are freed after more than twenty years trapped in cages at horrific bile farm in Vietnam

  • The animals were trapped in rusty cages in the southern town of My Tho where their bile is painfully extracted
  • During the procedure crude catheters are jabbed into the bears’ gall bladders to drain out fluid twice a day
  • The digestive juice is then used in traditional medicine such as powders, ointments and capsules
  • The five bears are now on a 1,000 mile journey from Tien Giang Province to a rescue centre in Tam Dao
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Five moon bears that were held in captivity for 21 years at a bile farm in Vietnam have been rescued.

The animals were detained in rusty cages in the small southern town of My Tho and were forced to endure constant and agonising procedures to have their bile extracted from their gall bladders.

The bears, who were given the names LeBON, Kim, Mai, Star, and Mekong, are now on a 1,000 mile journey from Tien Giang Province to a rescue centre in Tam Dao National Park.

The bears were rescued on Monday morning by Animals Asia, a non-profit organisation that has been fighting bear farming in Asia for 20 years.

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    The five bears lived for 21 years of torrid captivity at a bile farm in the small southern town of My Tho, Vietnam


    Kim is one of the five bears that were rescued on Monday. They are now on a 1,000 mile journey to a rescue centre


    LeBON stares timidly outside of its cage at the bile farm before it was rescued by volunteers at Animals Asia


    The bears were rescued by Animals Asia, a non-profit organisation that has been fighting bear farming in Asia for 20 years


    Endangered Asiatic black bears, known as ‘moon bears’ due to the distinctive cream coloured crescents on their chests, are the species of bear most commonly detained on bear bile farms in Asian countries like China and Vietnam

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    Video footage released by the charity organisation shows one of the captive moon bears – named after the yellow moon-shaped crescents on their chests – roaming in one of the cages, moments before it was freed.

    Other pictures of the six-hour rescue operation saw the bears receiving medical examinations before they were moved to a large transport truck.

    Doctors also took blood, hair, feces, and urine samples from the bears, which were found suffering from tooth decay and arthralgia.

    ‘They will never suffer behind bars again,’ said Jill Robinson, Animals Asia’s founder. 

    ‘This is an important step in our work to remove all of the bears who remain on farms in Vietnam from their cages, and bring them to sanctuary. It is a new day for these innocent bears who will now finally enjoy some of the freedoms they were denied so long ago,’ she added. 


    Many are starved, dehydrated, wounded and psychologically scarred when they are rescued


    Mai the moon bear is pictured roaming in one of the cages in the bile farm, moments before it was rescued by the volunteers


    Moon bear, also known as Asian black bear, is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature


    Pictures of the six-hour rescue operation on Monday saw the caged bears being moved to a large truck


    ‘They will never suffer behind bars again,’ said Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson. She has been fighting bile farming for years

    The moon bear, also known as the Asian black bear, is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. 

    Though bile farms have been outlawed in Vietnam since 1992, bears are still captured and caged in illicit facilities where their bile is extracted using invasive and painful techniques. A loophole in the law allows farmers to keep the bears listed as ‘pets’. 

    Driven by the belief that it has medicinal qualities, bear bile farming involves crude catheters jabbed repeatedly into the caged animal’s abdomen and gall bladder to drain out the fluid in an excruciating painful process that takes place twice a day.

    The digestive juice contains Urso Deoxycholicacid (UCDA), a prized ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, an industry which is worth £1.5 billion. 

    The bile is turned into powders, ointments and capsules and it has been suggested that the product can ease pain from liver disease and damages. In China, men also use bear bile as an aphrodisiac or to help cure hangovers.


    Bile is turned into powders, ointments and capsules. In China, bear bile is used as an aphrodisiac or to help cure hangovers


    All five bears are given medical checkups by the volunteers before they being moved to the transport truck


    Though bile farms have been outlawed in Vietnam since 1992, bears are still captured and caged in illicit facilities


    Bile contains Urso Deoxycholicacid (UCDA), a prized ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine


    Aside from ‘medicinal purposes’, the fluid is also used for entertainment purposes, according to World Animal Protection


    They also took blood, hair, feces, and urine samples from the bears, which were found suffering from tooth decay


    In South Korea, where it is legal to breed bears and slaughter them at 10 years of age for the sole purpose of extracting bile

    Aside from ‘medicinal purposes’, the fluid is also used for entertainment purposes, according to World Animal Protection, and is drunk to demonstrate affluence. In recent years it has also been added to various lifestyle and beauty products such as energy drinks, toothpaste and shampoo. 

    The procedure of extracting biles from the animals vary from country to country, and is often unregulated.  

    In Vietnam, the most common technique involves knocking the bear out with a powerful tranquillizer each month before inserting a large syringe or catheter deep into the bear’s gall bladder to extract the fluid.

    In South Korea, where it is legal to breed bears and slaughter them at 10 years of age for the sole purpose of extracting bile, the mammals are bred and caged for their entire lives before being killed. The bile is then extracted or the gall bladder harvested.

    In China, where it is also legal to own a captive bear and extract its bile, the most common technique involves ‘farmers’ luring the animals into minute cages where they can barely move before piercing through the bear’s abdominal wall into the gall bladder to create a permanent hole.


    The procedure of extracting biles from the animals vary from country to country, and is often unregulated


    In Vietnam, the most common technique involves knocking the bear out with a powerful tranquillizer each month before inserting a large syringe or catheter deep into the bear’s gall bladder to extract the fluid


    In China, where it is also legal to own a captive bear and extract its bile, the most common technique involves ‘farmers’ luring the animals into minute cages before piercing through its abdominal wall into the gall bladder to create a permanent hole


    The animals suffer immensely from extreme pain during the procedures and the wounds could cause severe infection


    There were about 1,200 bears in captivity in Vietnam in 2017, down from more than 4,000 in 2005, according to AFP


    Vietnam’s Administration of Forestry and Animals Asia signed an agreement in 2017 to rescue all remaining bears from farms


    Public awareness of animal protection has been gradually rising across Asia, pressuring officials to close down bile farms

    Either way, the animals suffer immensely from extreme pain and the wounds could cause severe infection.

    However, public awareness of animal protection and welfare has been gradually rising across Asia, pressuring authorities to close down bear farms and implement laws.   

    Vietnam’s Administration of Forestry (VNFOREST) and Animals Asia signed an agreement last year to rescue all remaining bears from farms, committing to end bile trade and close all facilities within five years.

    There were about 1,200 bears in captivity in Vietnam in 2017, down from more than 4,000 in 2005, caged in more than 400 bear farms across the country. 

    Many are starved, dehydrated, wounded and psychologically scarred when they are rescued. 

    Why are bears exploited for their bile?

    Commercial bear bile farming began in the 1980’s in China, where bile is painfully extracted from the gallbladders of living bears. 

    Endangered Asiatic black bears, known as ‘moon bears’ due to the distinctive cream coloured crescents on their chests, are the species of bear most commonly detained on bear bile farms in China and Vietnam.

    Many captive bears are kept permanently in ‘crush cages’ measuring 2ft 6ins by 4ft 2ins, giving them no room to move. 


    Many captive bears are kept permanently in ‘crush cages’ giving them no room to move


    Bear bile can be turned into medicinal powders, ointments, creams and capsules 

    By the early 1990’s, there were over 400 bear farms in China alone, containing tens of thousands of suffering bears, according to Animal Asia. 

    The method claimed to be the most ‘humane’ by bile farmers, is ‘free-drip’ method, where bears undergo surgery to create a permanent open passage from their gallbladder through their abdomen. 

    The digestive juice contains Urso Deoxycholicacid (UCDA), a prized ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, an industry which is worth £1.5 billion. 

    The bile is turned into powders, ointments and capsules and it has been suggested that the product can ease pain from liver disease and damages.  

    People also sometimes use it as an aphrodisiac or to help cure hangovers, cuts and bruises.   

    Bear bile can even be found in Chinese wine, ‘bile teas’ and ordinary household products like shampoo and toothpaste.

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