Bear farming does little to protect bears in the wild

An asiatic black bear at a farm in China.

Bear farmers often claim that their work helps protect bears in the wild, as extracting bile from captive animals allows them to offer a competitive product that reduces demand for wild bear bile. However, a new study by an Oxford University scholar states that introducing farmed bear bile does little or nothing to change consumer demand for wild bear bile and in some cases may actually increase the demand for bile from wild species.

Despite the tremendous suffering inflicted on wild animals, such as bears or tigers, caged in ‘farms’, the Chinese government and some conservationists support the farming of these species as a solution designed to reduce the poaching of protected species from the wild.

The WSPA-commissioned study, A Stated Preference Investigation into the Chinese Demand for Farmed vs Wild Bear Bile, conducted by Oxford University PhD student Adam Dutton, surveyed 1,700 adults across China on their preference for using both farmed and wild bear bile to treat illness. The results show that people say they prefer wild bear bile and would be willing to pay far more for it than for farmed bear bile. The study also revealed that most of those who could afford to buy wild bile would do so even if farmed bile is offered at lower prices.

Farming doesn’t stem demand for wild bears

“This study offers compelling evidence of what WSPA already suspected; the cruel and unnecessary practice of ‘farming’ bears for their bile will not protect them in the wild. Even more worryingly, ‘farming’ bears may actually increase the demand for wild species,” says Dave Eastham, WSPA Captive Bears Campaign Leader. “The best solution is to remove the demand for these cruel products altogether, by promoting humane alternatives – many already exist for bear bile – and ending illegal poaching.”

The study, which examined the stated preferences of those surveyed, found that, even if  farmed bear bile was offered at prices far below market value, the vast majority of  consumers would still prefer to pay more for wild bile. Even more worryingly, the findings suggest that if wild bear bile is offered at high prices, introducing farmed bear bile might increase demand for wild bear bile. One explanation may be that as product choice increases, price has less impact on decision making. 

The author of the study, Adam Dutton, said: “The experiments provide further evidence of a preference for wild sourced Chinese Medicine products which was earlier shown for tigers. It is surprising, but these results suggest that it is possible that traders are actually making more money and selling more bear bile now that they are competing with farmed bear bile than they would if it had never existed.”

Many alternatives to bear bile exist

The latest Chinese government figures released showed that there were 7,002 bears, mostly Asiatic black bears, on Chinese farms, although bear bile industry claims and some analysis by NGOs would indicate that thousands more bears may be suffering on ‘farms’.

Despite more than 65 herbal alternatives now being available, bear bile continues to be used in some Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM) to treat conditions such as reducing fever, protecting the liver, improvement of eyesight, breaking down gallstones, and as an anti-inflammatory.

“This study challenges the belief that bear farming protects bears in the wild,” concludes Eastham. “Considering the number of synthetic alternatives available, there is simply no excuse for the suffering endured by bears confined on these farms. Real protection for bears relies on raising awareness, promoting the use of these alternatives and clamping down on illegal poaching.”

Click here to find out more on the cruelty of bear farming.

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