IUCN Members elected their new President at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Jeju Island, Korea. Mr Zhang Xinsheng of China will lead the world’s largest environmental organization for the next four years. He succeeds Ashok Khosla, who successfully represented IUCN since the last Congress held in Barcelona. The newly-elect President of IUCN speaks about his hopes and plans for the future.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, the world’s largest and most important conservation event has passed a resolution addressing the issue of bear bile farming.
Across Asia, over 14,000 moon bears are being held in captivity on farms and milked for their bile because its believed to be effective in the practice of traditional Asian medicine despite the availability of inexpensive and effective herbal and synthetic alternatives. In China, the bears can spend more than 30 years in tiny cages and are milked regularly for their bile through crude catheters or permanently open holes in their abdomens.
The resolution encourages Korea and Vietnam to continue their efforts towards ending bear farming and calls for states that practice bear farming to work with the IUCN to close down illegal bear farms (those that do not comply with regulations), issue no further licenses or permits for farms, prevent an increase in bear numbers on existing farms, ensure no wild-caught bears are added to farms, conduct research into bear bile substitutes, and to establish a monitoring system to track trends in wild bear populations.
Importantly, the resolution calls for a scientifically independent, peer-reviewed situation analysis into whether all these points have been followed – most notably, how bear farming affects the conservation of wild bears. A report will be made to the next World Conservation Congress in 2016, possibly prompting further action at that time.
Jill Robinson MBE, Dr.med.vet. h.c., Founder & CEO, Animals Asia commented:
“The bear bile industry has been put on notice by the international community that its effects on wild bear populations are now under scrutiny and we hope to see the monitoring process beginning soon. With the conservation aspect now being fully addressed in the public arena, we are determined to continue exposing the welfare reality for thousands of bears held captive for decades on farms, with their bile extracted through open wounds cut into their gall bladders. We look forward to the day this suffering ends.”
An explanatory statement from the Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN states that the group had:
“reached the conclusion that commercial bear-farming does not constitute sustainable use. Even if farms could be made self-sustaining (by no longer restocking with wild-caught bears), the increased demand for wild bile created by the surplus of farmed bile has fueled the over-exploitation of wild bears.
“Wild bear populations are declining dramatically, due mainly to poaching, throughout the range where bear-farming occurs, and some local populations have been extirpated. Indeed, the decline of bear species in countries where bear-farming is taking place is much more rapid than in any other part of the world.”
Held every four years, the World Conservation Congress aims to improve how we manage our natural environment for human, social and economic development. The 2012 World Conservation Congress started on 6 September and finished on 15 September, in Jeju, Republic of Korea. Attendees are leaders from government, the public sector, non-governmental organisations, business, UN agencies and social organisations.
IUCN Resolution – M27 —14 September 2012
The following is the resolution on bear farming passed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, sponsored by IUCN Members outlining its background, purpose and aims.
For translation in other languages, please visit http://portals.iucn.org/2012motions/?q=node/433
Bear farming in Asia, with particular reference to the conservation of wild populations
NOTING that the Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus) is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, as a result of habitat loss and over-exploitation principally for the bile;
ALSO NOTING that the Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) is listed as Vulnerable to extinction in mainland Southeast Asia for the same reasons;
RECOGNIZING that, since the 1980s, large numbers of both species, especially Asiatic Black Bears, have been kept in captivity for the collection and commercial sale of their bile (henceforth called farming), and this has significantly increased the availability of bile intended to meet the needs of patients;
OBSERVING that evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship (positive, negative or none) between increased supply and use of farmed bear bile and the exploitation of wild bear populations is lacking;
CONCERNED that, in some cases, bear farming is poorly managed and regulated, often involving inappropriate husbandry, which impacts adversely on their health, ability to breed and causes increased mortality, thus prompting some farms to restock bears obtained illegally from the wild, which has adversely affected some wild populations;
NOTING that the increased production of bile from farms has led in some cases to it being used to maintain general health (not just to cure specific ailments) and also for other conditions not prescribed in traditional medicine (despite these uses having been prohibited since 1998 and 2005 by different agencies in People’s Republic of China);
FURTHER NOTING that the practice of bear farming for the collection of bile is legally conducted in some countries in Asia, and remains illegally practiced in others;
MINDFUL that the Asiatic Black Bear and Sun Bear are both listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), yet bile products from wild and farmed bears are illegally moved across national borders, in violation of this Convention;
ACKNOWLEDGING that some countries are moving towards the elimination of bear bile farming: the Republic of Korea banned live bile extraction and is currently considering how it may end bear farming, and the government of Socialist Republic of Viet Nam banned bile extraction and bear bile sales and is currently working towards ending the practice of keeping bears in captivity for commercial exploitation because of animal welfare and conservation concerns; and
ALSO ACKNOWLEDGING that significant advances have been made in the captive breeding of bears in farms in some areas in the People’s Republic of China;
The World Conservation Congress, at its session in Jeju, Republic of Korea, 6–15 September 2012:
1. ENCOURAGES the Republic of Korea and Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to continue their efforts towards ending bear farming;
2. URGES range state governments, working where appropriate with IUCN, to:
a. Close down illegal farms as soon as possible;
b. Issue no further licenses or permits for farms, and establish no new farms or new subsidiary operations of existing farms;
c. Take all necessary steps to prevent the increase in numbers of bears in existing farms as soon as possible;
d. Take increased measures to ensure that no more bears from the wild enter farms;
e. Ensure that products from existing, legal farms can only be used for legally approved medicines;
f. Conduct research to identify substitutes for bear bile, and to promote the use of these substitutes;
g. Establish a scientifically sound monitoring system to track trends in wild bear populations and the factors that drive these changes.
h. Undertake a scientifically independent, peer-reviewed situation analysis of progress on the points listed above, and report back to the next session of the World Conservation Congress.
3. RECOMMENDS that Parties to CITES fully implement legislation to prevent illegal international trade in Asiatic Black Bears and Sun Bears and their parts and derivatives, and promote greater public awareness of these issues.
Alertis- fund for bear and nature conservation, Netherlands
Wildlife Trust of India, India
Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Wildlife Conservation Society, USA
Conservation International, USA
British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, United Kingdom
Centre for Marinelife Conservation and Community Development, Viet Nam
Japan Wildlife Conservation Society, Japan
Malaysian Nature Society, Malaysia
Bear bile has been an important component of traditional medicine in Eastern Asia for millennia. Increased demand, stemming from burgeoning populations of people, coupled with more effective hunting of wild bears and increased ability to sell and transport products has led to the over-exploitation and decline of many Asian bear populations (especially Asiatic Black Bears and Sun Bears).
In the late 1970s, a technique was developed to extract bile from captive bears without killing them. This practise, called bear bile farming (or bear farming), increased rapidly in China and Korea, and later spread to several Southeast Asian countries. Initially it was believed that an increased supply of farmed bile would flood the market and thereby reduce demand for wild bear bile; in that way, farming could benefit the conservation of wild bears. However, for a number of reasons, this turned out to be untrue.
It was thought that farms could eventually be perpetuated through captive breeding, but despite more than 30 years of farming, it is clear that many farms are still stocked with bears from the wild. In part, this stocking from the wild is necessitated by high mortality rates of farmed bears, diminished rates of bile production with the aging of captive bears, and low rates of captive breeding, all a result of the conditions in which the bears are kept and their poor health, owing to the bile extraction process.
The ready availability of farmed bile reduced market prices, leading to increased numbers of users; surveys have shown that these users generally prefer wild bile, and are inclined to purchase wild bile when they can afford it.
The wide availability of farmed bile detracts from conservation attention to wild bears because it creates the illusion of a robust bear population. Availability of farmed bile creates confusion about origins of bile for users and enforcement authorities.
Commercial markets for bear bile have devastated wild populations of Asian bears. Reduction in the take of wild bears to restock bear farms would aid bear conservation, but this alone would not address the crux of the issue, which is the high demand for bear products. Demand is strongly influenced by market prices, availability, legality and effectiveness. Readily available and relatively cheap bear bile from farms has caused the undesired consequence of increasing demand for wild bile, which is perceived as being more effective. It is now clear that bile farming has not reduced commercial exploitation of wild bear populations; moreover, farming seems to have had the unanticipated effect of fuelling increased removal of wild bears. It is now recognized that the illegal wildlife trade defies traditional economic theory, which predicted that demand would have been satisfied by increased availability of cheaper, legal products.
Farming radically affected the commercial market for bear bile, which has fostered the uncontrolled and unsustainable mortality of wild bears. There is no conservation benefit, but significant risks in continued bear farming. Moreover, effective herbal and synthetic alternatives to bear bile are available, making farming unnecessary.