Bears in China may be going on hunger strikes to commit suicide in order to escape a cruel situation.
Bears are being held captive in China in order to harvest their bile for Chinese medicine. According to reports by Wildlife Extra, "bile bears" are being kept in deplorable conditions, in small cages that do not allow them to move freely. Wildlife activist Louis Ng described an experience of seeing a farm of bears.
"This farm had 29 bears in cages just large enough for them to stand up. All you hear when you walk inside is the constant banging of head against those cages." He added that the stress of the situation is enough to make the bears go mad; many begin gnawing on their own paws or try other forms of self-harm in order to escape.
Ng also explained how the bile is extracted from the bears: "[It] is removed from the bear by inserting a catheter tube through a permanent incision in the abdomen and gall bladder. Sometimes a permanently implanted metal tube is used."
Why is bear bile so important? Chinese history has used bear bile for centuries, dating back to 659 A.D. Medicine is then made with the bile, which contains ursodeoxycholic acid, or UDCA.
"Bear bile was traditionally used for gastric bypass surgery and to treat minor ailments such as sore throats, sprains, as well as epilepsy," according to Wildlife Extra.
Groups such as the World Society for the Protection of Animals are working to eliminate bear farms and promote the use of synthetic UDCA and herbal alternatives. "More than 30 Traditional Asian Medical communities have spoken out against bear bile," according to the WSPA website.
There are over 12,000 bears held captive throughout Asia, according to reports. Ng is hoping to open a rescue center in Laos to rehabilitate bears previously held captive. It is expected to open in June.