The animal welfare group Animals Asia received six bears in China today, after the Sichuan Forestry Department took the animals from an illegal bear bile farm. The two organizations worked together to remove the bears, in a project that highlights the poor treatment of bears that are kept in cages in order to harvest their bile for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
According to Animals Asia, the rescued bears were in very poor condition. Photos show that they had sustained wounds from the cages they're kept in; one also had severely injured claws.
"If you've seen the paws of the bears it's obvious they haven't stood on solid ground for years," the group's founder and CEO, Jill Robinson, said.
Many of the bears that are kept in confinement for their bile are Asian black bears, often called moon bears, which are classified as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Animals Asia estimates that more than 10,000 bears are kept on bile farms in China, with about 2,400 more in Vietnam.
As John Platt at Scientific American wrote last year, the practice has reportedly been shrinking in South Korea, where "90 percent of South Koreans think bear farming is inhumane and support ending the practice in the country." But he noted that demand for bear bile remained strong.
NPR has previously reported on the plight of the bears caught in the bile industry, including back in 2008, when producer Andrea Hsu visited Animals Asia.
As Andrea reported, the bile, which is extracted from gall bladders, isn't hard to find.
"I walked into a pharmacy on the way to dinner and found a small package of powdered bear bile selling for about $1.20," she wrote. "It's used to reduce fevers and treat problems with eyes, among other things."
The farming of bears remains legal in China, but "the government stopped issuing new licenses for it in 1994," Andrea reported.
Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.