The thought of an intelligent, sentient Moon Bear being locked in a cage no bigger than itself for 20 years with a dirty, metal catheter crudely inserted in to the gall bladder while bile is endlessly and painfully extracted sounds like a torturous experience beyond the capabilities of any living being. But it happens.
In China, South Korea, Laos and Vietnam, bear bile farms perpetuate this practice to harvest a commodity used in traditional Chinese Medicine. It doesn't work, of course, and perversely causes more harm than good in humans. But that doesn't stop a barbaric and unconscionable practice where decades of physical torture, tumours, cancers, infections and diseases are the only guarantee.
In the Western World, industries such as this distort our view of China. We perceive it as a country with little or no animal welfare, were the People have no interest in protecting their rights. But since my involvement with Animals Asia Foundation, a charity dedicated to ending bear bile farming, I've discovered a very different truth.
Historically, the Chinese have great respect for animals. Over the years, however, various human trials and tribulations have meant that animal welfare has slipped down their list of priorities. In comparison to the country-wide burden of poverty, government officials have never felt the need to make it an issue and rarely, if ever, give it their attention.
In addition, bear bile farmers have used an ever evolving, highly funded array of marketing tactics to make their industry appear humane and their products wealth-affirming. For example, they've created a 'high end' bear bile gift market where the giving of their product infers great respect for a host. Capitalising on this is just one of the ways the bear bile market has infiltrated Chinese tradition to make its existence appear acceptable. Any product derived from such barbarity can never be acceptable.
With such potent, aggressive and underhand marketing from the perpetrators and such little resolve from the government to put an end to it, one wonders how Animals Asia will ever succeed in quashing this monster. Fortunately, they are in tune with a much greater force; the Chinese People themselves. Bringing the issue of bear bile farming to the feet of the People, Animals Asia have exploded myths, challenged ideals and publically confronted an industry thought to be untouchable.
Initially, the wave of support was small. Focussed and dedicated groups rallied behind an agenda to confront the problem. But as the 21st Century approached, so did Social Media. Websites, blogs and virtual streams of truth-sharing appeared. The Chinese people had a voice, and the wave got bigger.
The initial swell was ignored, but eventually the bile farmers were provoked in to launching a response. They meticulously staged press days, attempting to win headlines with grossly false welfare claims. They 'bought' support from powerful pharmaceutical companies. And, of course, they mounted an onslaught of derision towards Animals Asia. They bribed and manipulated anything and everything.
Except the people.
But it wasn't just virtual opposition; the Chinese public began to take to the streets, campaigning outside bear bile farms, retailers and beyond. In the West, we take for granted our freedom of speech. So common is it to see open campaigning that it has become the accepted normality of our constitution. In China, however, civil disobedience is seen to strike at the heart of a complex Government with many traditional ideals. It's not just frowned upon; it's against the law. So one cannot stress enough the significance of this strictly forbidden behaviour. Without the right approval, to partake is a brave defiance authority; an unambiguous display of contempt for the bear bile farming industry.
Now, the wave is larger than it's ever been. And over the next decade the size and frequency will increase further. With opposition now reaching 90% of the population and skilled guidance and negotiation from Animals Asia, it's hoped that animal welfare laws will turn from discussion in to reality and that cruel animal industries will shut down their businesses. It's hoped that, one day, no animal should have to endure the nightmare of the bear bile farming industry.
The Western media has often purported a skewed view of animal welfare in China. And if one focuses on the abhorrence of the bear bile farming industry, it's not surprising. But be mindful that they are the highly organised and well funded minority. The People may not have the financial resources, but they now have a far reaching and unified voice. And they're fuelled by love and respect for their animals; a power no amount of money can buy.
To learn more about their amazing work and offer your support, visit www.animalsasia.org