Whiskers are also known as vibrissa, from the latin vibrare "to vibrate". Vibrissa are the specialized hairs on mammals and the bristlelike feathers near the mouths of many birds. Their resonant design is symbolic of the energies, good and bad, that are reverberating throughout the natural world. Every living thing is connected and, by birthright, deserves to exist.
As you are reading this, there are an estimated 12,000-20,000 bears confined to tiny cages throughout Asia, primarily in China, Malaysia and Thailand. These bears are victim to the barbaric practice of trade in bear parts, particularly gall, known as bear farming. They are confined so the bile can be extracted from their gall bladders and sold for use in Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM). The procedure is done with no anesthesia and causes intense pain to the bears, who are subjected to this several times over many years, or as long as they survive the horrid conditions.
Major consumers of bile and other bear parts for TAM include China, Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Major suppliers of bear parts include Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United States and Vietnam. All eight species of bears are exploited for this international trade, including an annual estimated 40,000-80,000 bears from the United States.
As a Registered Nurse and scientist, I find myself fixating on the lack of logic in using bear parts, particularly bile. Bile is produced by the gallbladder and is composed of cholesterol, bile salts and bilirubin. There is nothing in bear bile that cannot be obtained through synthetic or plant based supplements. I have prepped many a newborn human baby and placed he or she in phototherapy to help get rid of excessive bilirubin, a common occurrence when a newborn’s liver has not quite engaged in full metabolic function. Too much bilirubin is a bad thing. I am perplexed by the concept of anyone purposefully swallowing bear bile or any other kind of bile. This practice is bound to be just as dangerous to humans as it is to bears.
Why do we care about the safety of humans involved in illegal trade of bear parts? Humans have a choice. Bears do not. Right? Well, sort of. Suppliers of original bear parts often live in impoverished areas with little economic opportunities. A hunter may be paid $60 for a bear paw that later becomes a restaurant menu item of bear paw soup sold for $850 per bowl. The hunter is living in poverty and responding to basic principles of supply and demand in order to survive. It is the demand that must be eliminated through education on a global scale about the alternative treatments that are as effective, or more so, than use of bear parts.
There is also a need for stronger laws prohibiting trade in bear parts. The Bear Protection Act of 2009 (H.R. 3480) was introduced in 2009 to conserve global bear populations by prohibiting the importation, exportation, and interstate trade of bear viscera and items, products, or substances containing, or labeled or advertised as containing, bear viscera, and for other purposes. Unfortunately this bill died after it was referred to committee, a sad commentary given it was a reintroduction of H.R. 3029 introduced in 2007. Individual states have laws prohibiting trade in animal parts but typically just misdemeanors with small fines that fail to serve as a deterrent.
We cannot wait for laws to be enacted if we are to protect the natural world. The single biggest way to improve the world is for each of us to individually do what we can. AnimalsAsia was founded in 1998 and is the only organization with a bear sanctuary in China. They have rescued more than 400 bears to date. On their website, you will find several suggestions for ways you can help to end the trade in bear parts. Together, we can make a difference.
This video documents Luke Nicolson of the World Society for the Protection of Animals in his fight to end the bear bile industry.
Warning: Graphic Images