Kevin the smiling moon bear might be the happiest bear on the planet. He gallops around the Animals Asia sanctuary with a permanent grin on his face – a smile that’s remarkable considering his past. Before his rescue, Kevin lived a tortured life, crammed in a tiny cage enduring regular bile extractions in one of China’s bear bile farms.
The cruelty inside bile farms has slowly come to light over the last decade, thanks to organizations like Animals Asia. Bears are locked in cages no bigger than coffins – many have been confined in the same cage their entire lives. Unable to stand on all four or turn around, they spend waking hours gnawing on the bars of their prison. Each bear’s gallbladder is drained twice a day through a surgically implanted catheter. This open wound causes infections, hernias, and even tumors. After decades of confinement, when they’re bile finally dries up, they’re killed to make room for the next victim.
Despite these revelations of obvious cruelty, the market for bear bile remains strong. Bear bile is regularly prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine to treat everything from sore throats to epilepsy, with a market price which rivals that of gold. Even with high demand, factory extraction has generated a bile surplus, with new bile-based products like hangover cures and shampoos appearing in the market. Ironically, bear bile is a mostly useless ingredient. The active compound in bile, ursodeoxycholic acid, has only been proven effective in treating gallstones and certain kinds of cirrhosis. And with the active ingredient identified, synthetic alternatives are already available, which makes the cruelty of this industry all the more pointless.
At least for Kevin, the horror is over. Though he lost his left front paw and spent most of his life in a cage, he’s become a fast favorite around the sanctuary with his goofy grin and cheerful disposition. Hopefully with growing awareness of bile farm cruelty, more bears will be freed to smile alongside Kevin.