November 3, 2006
....China continues to hold up bear farming as the model for allowing the world to have its tigers and eat them, too.
Chinese wildlife officials claim that milking live bears of their bile has met China’s national demand for bear bile and, thereby, stopped the poaching of wild bears.
The former is certainly true. China has an estimated 7,000 bears on 68 licensed farms, which satisfy the whole country's need for bear bile to treat human diseases of the liver and gall bladder. China has so much bear bile stockpiled on farms these days that bear farmers are looking to create new markets for their product. Today, we are seeing bear-bile shampoo and toothpaste. Tomorrow, perhaps it will be bear-bile ice cream and breath mints.
The second part of the argument says that the glut of inexpensive farmed bile puts wealthy consumers off buying the more costly but supposedly superior medicine found in the gall bladders of wild bears. This allegedly leaves bear poachers without buyers for bear gall bladders. This is where the theory gets a little shaky.
"The truth is that we do not know whether bear farming saves any wild bears," Dr. David Garshelis, Co-Chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group (BSG), wrote in a letter to the China Daily earlier this year. "We know that huge surpluses of farmed bile are produced; yet we also know that poaching of wild bears continues because wild bile is more valuable than farmed bile."
Dr. Chris Servheen, Co-Chair of the Bear Trade Expert Team of the BSG, says there simply are no reliable data to show whether China’s bears are better or worse off because of bile farming. "Unfortunately, there have been no studies to document any changes in mortality rates for wild bears due to trafficking in bear bile, and there are no scientifically reliable estimates of population size changes in Asiatic black bears in China. Until such data are available, inferences about the relationship between bear farming and the conservation of wild bears have no scientific basis."
There seems to be more data available documenting an ongoing illegal trade in wild bears and their parts. "There is ample circumstantial and anecdotal evidence that bears are poached for their gall bladders and other parts, and for live capture to stock farms," Jill Robinson, head of Animals Asia Foundation, told October’s 4th International Conference on Trade in Bear Parts in Nagano, Japan.
We’re down to "he-said, she-said" on this matter. China's wildlife officials say bear farming is saving Asia’s wild bears from commercial demand. Conservation experts say the opposite may be true. Does the world want to hang the fate of Asia’s wild bears on hearsay and undocumented assumptions?
The government of China has hired foreign consultants to help them sell the world on the notion that farming tigers will save wild tigers from the commercial demand that now pushes them quickly toward extinction. They hold up bear farming as proof. Renowned biologists and economists say the opposite -- that farming tigers like bears will doom wild tigers. Does the world want to hang the fate of the last 5,000 wild tigers on hearsay and undocumented assumptions?
Thank you for your interest in stopping tiger trade,
Campaign Against Tiger Trafficking (CATT): An organized response to an organized crime
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