A Review of Pathologies and Summary of Treatment Strategies in Bile-Farmed Asian Bears
An estimated 7,0001 bears are currently incarcerated in bile farms within China, where their bile is extracted for use in traditional Chinese medicine. This legal industry typically confines bears to body-sized cages or occasionally small bear-pit-type enclosures, requires the creation of a fistula between the gall bladder and abdominal wall to allow for bile collection, and sanctions the amputation of phalanges or the cutting out of the canine teeth.3
Data is recorded regarding the clinical condition of bears on arrival from farms at the Animal’s Asia Foundation’s China Bear Rescue Centre. Clinical syndromes are also recorded throughout the lifetime of the bears and necropsy data is evaluated. So far 260 bears (primarily Ursus thibetanus [n=256], but also Ursus arctos [n=3] and Helarctos malayanus [n=1]) have been rescued, the majority directly from the bile industry within China. Of these, 238 bears have been used for bile extraction and 178 are still alive, having undergone intensive physical and behavioral rehabilitation at the rescue centre. Primary disease processes in this population include neoplasia, especially hepatobiliary, which accounts for 43% of deaths, clinical degenerative joint disease (18%), clinical ocular disease (13%), ocular disease diagnosed through histopathology (100%), and dental disease (approximately 40%).1 The probable existence of subclinical and as-yet-undiagnosed disease, means that actual prevalence of these pathologies is likely to be higher.
Various investigations and treatment strategies for diseases affecting locomotion, including MRI, CT, radiography, multimodal systemic analgesia,2 and intra-articular anti-inflammatories have been utilized. Dental disease has been successfully managed through extraction and root canal therapy. Various ocular diseases have been investigated and treated through intracapsular lens extraction, phacoemulsion, retinal laser surgery, nutritional therapy, and enucleation. Hepatic support is maintained through the use of synthetic ursodeoxycholic acid and herbal supplements.
Collection of this data strengthens the welfare arguments against the continuation of bile farming. Investigation and management of these disease processes provide valuable clinical and husbandry information not only applicable to bile-farmed bears but also to any captive bear population where these disease processes exist.
1. Animals Asia Foundation, unpublished veterinary medical records.
2. Bacon, H.J. 2008. Joint disease and its management in captive bear species. Int Bear News. 17:22–25.
3. Loeffler K., J. Robinson, and G. Cochrane. 2007. Compromised health and welfare of bears in China’s bear bile farming industry, with special reference to the free-dripping bile extraction technique. Animals Asia Foundation Report. www.animalsasia.org.