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Free The Bile Bears
November 30, 2006 9:31 AM   Subscribe

I researched and put an infopiece together after recently learning of bile bears here on Metafilter. Even as an animal professional, I was unaware of the existence of bile bears. Now I know: Bile Bears are live moon bears that are turned into living crated "bile kegs," the bear's bile being extracted by means of a surgically implanted tube and used to treat conditions as varied as gallstones, kidney disorder, and (of course) impotence. After the long-suffering bear dies, the creature's body parts are then sold off individually for further monetary gain. Indeed, it is an appalling practice, but worse I learned the practice is spreading, and in fact demand for bear products is now affecting the bear population of North America, as North American bears are being illegally hunted and harvested for their parts to be used domestically and abroadin the preparation of traditional Chinese medicine.
posted by mongonikol (43 comments total)

 
who are these traditional Chinese and why do they call this medicine?
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 9:35 AM on November 30, 2006


I researched and put an infopiece...

SLBOE'D
posted by prostyle at 9:37 AM on November 30, 2006


Self link?
posted by matty at 9:37 AM on November 30, 2006


Um, this is a good post, except for the apparent self-link. That's considered Bad in these parts.
posted by Malor at 9:38 AM on November 30, 2006


Traditional Chinese medicine was cool a thousand years ago. Now it's just medicine that's a thousand years behind.

Why do people even bother to torture or kill bears, rhinos, tigers, etc., for such "medicines" when they could just sell fakes that work as well as the real thing (i.e., not at all)?
posted by pracowity at 9:43 AM on November 30, 2006


My apologies for the self-link. I was hesitant to post except for the importance of the subject matter, and I was unable to locate any amassing of significant links on the subject matter...so I created one on a site which is strictly non-commercial. One thousand and one times infinity metafilter pardons, and thanks to all for the for-bear-ance.
posted by mongonikol at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2006


I was OK with the self-link but I can't forgive that pun.
posted by lyam at 9:52 AM on November 30, 2006


Take out the self-link, and the post stands pretty well. I hope jessamatt uses the velvet glove here.
posted by boo_radley at 9:58 AM on November 30, 2006


I wasn't going to get riled about the self link as the rest of the post is quality, but for-bear-ance? Where the hell is my torch and pitchfork?

As to the post itself, I'm with pracowity on this. We could make a fortune selling powdered Rhino horn that looks suspiciously like crushed black pepper.

I don't want to denigrate another culture's, um, culture. But I have to draw the line when their practices are putting another species on the brink.
posted by quin at 10:01 AM on November 30, 2006


I don't want to denigrate another culture's, um, culture. But I have to draw the line when their practices are putting another species on the brink.

Derr, there goes Western culture, huh? Hint: The vast majority of the 15000 species currently facing extinction are not being killed by the Chinese.
posted by nasreddin at 10:17 AM on November 30, 2006


I removed the self-link. I think the rest of the post is ok.
posted by mathowie at 10:21 AM on November 30, 2006


Ahh! Thanks for the velvet glove! Not only is my guilt is abated, but the post stands on its own merits! Whew!
posted by mongonikol at 10:24 AM on November 30, 2006


Awww, man!

*kicks at ground, puts away pitchfork*
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:25 AM on November 30, 2006


How is this any worse than the way in which food animals are grown? Or any worse than rare animals that are simply shot for their placebo-parts?
posted by rxrfrx at 10:28 AM on November 30, 2006


it's pretty obvious how it's worse.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 10:34 AM on November 30, 2006


rxrfrx, first of all, "simply shot" means not living to suffer an ongoing, lingering death. Second, killing and harming any "rare" animal is counter-ethical on a global level. Third, and the real significance of what I learned, is that the practice of using bear-based products for quasi-medicinal puposes/real financial gain has spread to other countries such as the US and Canada, where it is illegal, in the form of poaching and contraband.
posted by mongonikol at 10:37 AM on November 30, 2006


How is this any worse than ___________ ?


A) killing and eating babies

B) blowing up the moon

C) poking out your grandma's eyes


Ah. Metafilter. How indeed.
posted by tkchrist at 10:45 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


... in fact demand for bear products is now affecting the bear population of North America

This is an appalling practice, but I think you overstate your case when you say this is affecting North American populations in any measurable way. There are hundreds of thousands of bears in North America and what pressure they have is due to loss of habitat, not harvesting of bear parts.
posted by JackFlash at 10:45 AM on November 30, 2006


Ugh. Scary stuff.

Thanks for the great post, mongonikol.
posted by koeselitz at 10:58 AM on November 30, 2006


it's pretty obvious how it's worse.

Of course it is. These bears are pretty damn cute. Who ever heard of a cute cow, pig or chicken?

Now harvest me a brace of Bonobo Monkey Glands, my good man. And don't spare the ketamine!

(For me, not for the goddammed monkey!)
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:04 AM on November 30, 2006


How is it worse? Well, you know how they overfeed geese to get Foie Gras and the protest that surrounds it? OK, now imagine in they get a guy to go in and surgically remove half of the goose's liver then sew it back up and let it grow back and then do it again, and again, and again....

There are some dubious food production techniques but this is like, "Jeffrey Dahmer had a farm, EIEIO."
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:08 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


Man... nobody knows how to torture animals like them there Asians - the rage i feel over this almost overcomes my factual knowledge that on a daily basis animals all over my compassionate and caring country are being abused, slaughtered, and ravenously consumed. Oh well... Damn those sadistic asians with their magic elixirs!
posted by wumpus at 11:09 AM on November 30, 2006


But this isn't for food, KC. It's medicine.

If Bile Beans could cure biliousness, dyspepsia, torpid liver, sick headache, malaria, indigestion, sour stomach, bad breath, vertigo, dysentery, jaundice, enlarged spleen, drowsyness after meals, etc. then just think what a Bile Bear could cure!

Now please excuse me as I've got to go and lie down. I can feel a Sick Headache coming on and I'm all out of Bear Bile due to do-gooder prohibitionists who want to criminalize those of us who suffer from torpid liver and sick headaches.

Legalize Bear Bile! Stop the War on Some Drugs!

Now does anyone know where I can get me a decent vest made from real Gorilla chest? Like the one that Monty Burns wears?

Burns: Some men hunt for sport,
Others hunt for food,
The only thing I'm hunting for,
Is an outfit that looks good...

See my vest, see my vest,
Made from real gorilla chest,
Feel this sweater, there's no better,
Than authentic Irish setter.

See this hat, 'twas my cat,
My evening wear - vampire bat,
These white slippers are albino
African endangered rhino.

Grizzly bear underwear,
Turtles' necks, I've got my share,
Beret of poodle, on my noodle
It shall rest,

Try my red robin suit,
It comes one breast or two,
See my vest, see my vest,
See my vest.

Like my loafers? Former gophers -
It was that or skin my chauffeurs,
But a greyhound fur tuxedo
Would be best,

So let's prepare these dogs,

Mrs. Potts: Kill two for matching clogs,

Burns: See my vest, see my vest,
Oh please, won't you see my vest.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:21 AM on November 30, 2006


nasreddin : Derr, there goes Western culture, huh? Hint: The vast majority of the 15000 species currently facing extinction are not being killed by the Chinese.

But I think you'd agree that most of those 15000 are not being killed for the frivolous reason of making 'medicines' that aren't going to actually do anything. Or do less than actual developed medicines (rhino horn vs. Viagra).

Certainly western culture is doing huge damage to the animal kingdom. But this thread is about killing/ harming animals for what amounts to folklore. That would be bad enough, but when you couple it with the fact that many of the animals that are being hunted are very close to the brink of not being here anymore, it becomes deplorable.
posted by quin at 11:22 AM on November 30, 2006


Recent MoFi post.
posted by homunculus at 11:58 AM on November 30, 2006


Hint: The vast majority of the 15000 species currently facing extinction are not being killed by the Chinese.

The Chinese just kill the cute ones to make their dicks stay up.
posted by gottabefunky at 12:10 PM on November 30, 2006


Charming. It's like Unit 731 for bears.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:24 PM on November 30, 2006


That takes some gall, I tell ya.
posted by Floydd at 2:06 PM on November 30, 2006


I am pretty sure that some Chinese medicine works effectively. Perhaps there is some property of bear bile that can be taken advantage of by the human immune system. Maybe it is just a rare commodity that sounds impressive, like eye of newt. Wereas I can imagine how someone might accidentally find themselves in a position to collect some newt eyes, I am a bit mystified as to how one would come across bear bile by serendipity alone.
Maybe the product is impressive because the animal is associated with power, like the rhino. Strong like bull.

Floydd, it galls me to hear about it.

Thankyou, thankyou, remember to tip your staff and don't try the veal!
posted by asok at 4:32 PM on November 30, 2006


In New Zealand, they show this ad during afternoon cartoons. Good times.
posted by arruns at 4:39 PM on November 30, 2006


how one would come across bear bile by serendipity alone

Walking through the forest the other day when, imagine my suprise, I happened upon a dead bear. Now as you know my son was running a bit of a temperature and complaining of sore eyes so, quick as a flash I pulled out my knife and fashioned a straw from a bamboo stem. I emptied the tea from my flask and replaced it with bear bile.

Now a local (government sanctioned) view:

Extraction of bear bile 'painless, necessary'

Google cache of another copy of the story which is currently offline, with other information at the bottom, which I shall copy here in case it disappears and because it is almost too good to be true and 'Yes, Minister'-esque.

Other issues addressed by officials at the press conference:

Skinning animals: Cases of animals such as dogs and cats skinned alive is sporadic in some areas, Yu Fachang, a division director of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, said.

Shark fin: Yu said Chinese consumers are being advised to change their dietary habits and eat as few fins as possible.

Li Yanliang, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture, said China strictly adheres to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, and has not violated the ban on fishing of whale shark, basking shark or great white shark listed in the convention.

Dog killing: Guo Weimin, chief of the news department of the State Council Information Office, refuted some recent foreign media reports of public dog-killing campaigns in Guangzhou of South China and some other cities.

Since illegally-raised or abandoned dogs were attacking at least two people a day in Guangzhou posing a rabies threat local authorities last year conducted a one-month campaign in September to protect people's lives, Guo said.

posted by asok at 4:58 PM on November 30, 2006


Last one. Listen to Wang:

He cited statistics as saying one bear in a farm prevents 220 being killed in the wild for their bile.

So one bear produces 220 bile harvests in it's productive lifespan. I assume that is what they are saying.

Enough bile.
posted by asok at 5:04 PM on November 30, 2006


Maybe the product is impressive because the animal is associated with power, like the rhino. Strong like bull.

Ding-ding! Bears, and other manly creatures, are full of manly Yin energy. Their bile is the center of this energy, thus, drink the bile, you get the Qi! At least that's how it's been explained to me.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:26 PM on November 30, 2006


If Bile Beans could cure biliousness, dyspepsia, torpid liver, sick headache, malaria, indigestion, sour stomach, bad breath, vertigo, dysentery, jaundice, enlarged spleen, drowsyness after meals, etc. then just think what a Bile Bear could cure!
Anything that has the potential to do that will be analyzed, genetically isolated and patented by a US big pharma group. Even if the ingredient is totally natural, they'll get a patent and mix the stuff in vats, and sell it for billions.

On the upside, the bears would get left alone for the most part.


And a wag of the finger to all the "hey the chinese aren't the worst offenders" folks -- last time I checked, calling someone out because they do something awful doesn't mean you've excused the rest of the guilty. Just because I condemn the US Government for it's shortcomings doesn't mean I've let Iraq, China or France off the hook for anything they've done.

Yeah, Foie Gras is awful, and people abort babies, and drive SUVs and eat meat. They can deserve condemnation too, but this post is about the moon bears, who have a pretty awful lot in life once they get put on bile production. All the other stuff you guys brought up doesn't somehow make this ok.
posted by illovich at 6:50 PM on November 30, 2006


Stuff like this makes me wish for newer, more effective Chinese medicines.

It would be nice, for example, if the testicles of Chinese men were found to have unparalleled healing powers when eaten.
posted by redteam at 7:42 PM on November 30, 2006


Ancient Chinese Secret, huh?
posted by disillusioned at 7:48 PM on November 30, 2006


It would be nice, for example, if the testicles of Chinese men were found to have unparalleled healing powers when eaten.

Who said they don't think this already?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:49 PM on November 30, 2006


The NVA and Viet Cong used chinese medicine to combat malaria while the poor GIs suffered the side effects of Larium.

30 years later, the WHO has approved its use against malaria in Africa.

I think it's healthy that Asian cultures maintain a tradition of natural products in healthcare. In the West we look askance at anything that's not synthesized, but many of the essential tools in our medicine kit are based on naturally occurring compounds (aspirin and morphine are two great examples).

In Vietnam animal products share the shelves with botanicals in the pharmacopia the Vietnamese inherited from China. I have no doubt that some of their claimed benefits are real.

The extraction of bear bile is a nasty practice, and that's why it's the subject of this story, but there's no need to let our revulsion at that practice invalidate the whole of Chinese medicine in our minds.
posted by grubby at 8:30 PM on November 30, 2006


There is actually some evidence to say that bear bile has benefit for a few liver and gall-bladder illnesses. People tend to be prescribed ursodiol which is the synthetic version. I know this because I can't legally have this prescribed to me in Australia for my gallstones, but I apparently I can get traditional medicine which would presumably contain bits of bear. Despite gallbladder attacks of an excruciating nature, I'm not tempted to venture into Chinatown just yet.

None of this excuses a disgusting and cruel practice, of course, but those of you yelling "quackery" and foaming at the mouth might want to remember that Chinese Medicine occasionally gets it right. Possibly due to random chance, but there you go.
posted by ninazer0 at 12:28 AM on December 1, 2006


In the West we look askance at anything that's not synthesized

No, in the West (and the East and the North and the South -- it's got nothing to do with China per se) we -- if we are scientific -- look askance at anything that, in double-blind tests, is shown to have no benefit. If you're going to torture bears for their secretions, start by showing that there is a good reason -- that the bile, when tested against a placebo in reproducible double-blind experiments, produces measurable positive results consistently. Then determine why the bile is showing such results -- bile is a lot of stuff mixed together, but is there an identifiable component of the bile that does the trick? Can the important component be reproduced in the lab so we can avoid torturing animals and make the stuff more consistently.

Chinese traditional medicine (like any other traditional medicine) is the best people could come up with in the area at the time based on primitive ideas about how things work. The reason traditional medicines don't easily go away is because the treatments that clearly hurt or kill people have been abandoned as clearly bad ideas ("Oops! Sorry about killing your son."), but the treatments that do nothing other than offer a placebo continue to be better than nothing (no medicine + no placebo) and, because they often are just old dried up plants, they generally are pretty cheap. And while scientific medicine continues to get better (sometimes at the cost of making mistakes, of course, but almost always advancing), traditional medicine continues to do nothing but offer a placebo. It is blamed for nothing because its practitioners very carefully do nothing.

Until proven otherwise, bear bile and snake oil are equally effective treatments for anything anyone cares to put on the label.
posted by pracowity at 12:58 AM on December 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


I know someone who has to take ursodiol, to, um, live. So while I'm very glad that the acid is synthesized by Axcan or whomever, if it needed to be taken from bears I'd be happy to cut those fuzzy brown fuckers open myself.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:41 AM on December 1, 2006


pracowity, the reason I mentioned sweet wormwood, the treatment for malaria, above, is that it has been in use for 2000 years, yet for some reason was only approved for use by western medicine in 2004. This despite more than a million deaths a year from malaria in Africa.

What I mean to say is that if scientists had listened a bit harder to the accumulated knowledge of Chinese traditional medicine, they might have saved millions of lives. The active compound in this herb was isolated in China in 1972. I suspect at least part of the delay in testing it in the West came from "not made here" syndrome - if it's from China it's foreign, suspect.

As an aside, the main active ingredient in Tamiflu (most effective treatment against avian flu), star anise, is found mainly in East Asia. It is also part of the chinese pharmacopia.
posted by grubby at 6:33 AM on December 1, 2006


What I mean to say is that if scientists had listened a bit harder to the accumulated knowledge of Chinese traditional medicine, they might have saved millions of lives.

You're right, it's absolutely true that some medicines began as folk cures -- someone gets lucky and finds relief in chewing some plant, for example. But how many folk cures are just tea? If there's a good case to be made for a folk remedy, the person who makes that case can make a lot of money, and Western companies are not nowadays averse to investigating compounds from other places.

But claims have to be backed up with evidence. All "natural" (unrefined, unexamined, uncertain, etc.) medicines always need to be tested to see whether they really work (other than as a placebo) and, if they work, there are many reasons to determine exactly how they work (determining dosage, adverse reactions, allergies, etc.). It is never smart to just sit back and use the same treatment that people have been using for hundreds and hundreds of years (chewing willow bark, for example) when good lab work can refine the treatment to make it cheaper and easier for everyone to get (willow bark --> aspirin). It was only fairly recently that we determined how aspirin works -- Nobel Prize and knighthood to the researcher -- and that research has led to a greater understanding of how the human body works.
posted by pracowity at 7:18 AM on December 1, 2006


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