Bear Farming and Trade in China and Taiwan
by Keith Highley and Suzie Chang Highley
for The Humane Society of the United States
and Humane Society International
This report is dedicated to Boonlerd Angirijinda, who passed away
in 1992. His unwavering dedication to the preservation of wildlife
in spite of harassment and threats to his life from Thailand's
nefarious endangered species profiteers is, even now, an inspiration.
In what was easily the most memorable moment of the Eighth Conference
of the parties of CITES, Mr. Boonlerd's emotional plea for inclusion
of the North American Black Bear in Appendix II was instrumental
in swinging the vote of the Parties to approve an Appendix II
listing for the species. In countries that strictly honor CITES,
the listing eliminated a loophole that gave carte blanche to illegal
international trade in bear parts.
Boonlerd, you are missed.
China's bear farms are currently the subject of heated debate.
Proponents of extracting bile from captive bears argue that such
facilities provide an abundant, renewable supply of bile for medicinal
use while simultaneously reducing pressure on China's-and the
world's-wild bear populations.
On the other side of the debate are detractors of China's bruin
concentration camps, who maintain that the farms do little to
conserve the species. Asiatic black and brown bears are still
wild­p;caught for use on farms, and demand for bear bile may
be on the rise as a result of an aggressive marketing campaign
touting products containing farmed bile. Opponents of bear farming
also charge that it is unconscionable to condemn thousands of
bears to a life of confinement in cages that are in most cases
only slightly larger than their occupants-a cruelty done for the
sake of producing medicinal goods as well as nonmedicinal products
such as shampoos, hemorrhoid creams, and herbal teas.
Christopher Servheen and Judy Mills provided the first detailed
look at bear farms in China and South Korea in "The Asian
Trade in Bears and Bear Parts," a World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
U.S.­p;sponsored report published in 1991. The International
Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and other organizations have also
compiled a considerable amount of data on the subject. The goal
of this monograph is to add to this existing knowledge and to
discuss possible solutions to end China's rush into stocking its
bear farms with still more wild­p;caught bears. This report
also looks at the market for bear gall bladders on Taiwan and
provides a brief review of the global trade in bears and their
CITES AND THE TWO CHINAS
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of
Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a United Nations treaty. CITES
is the premier international vehicle for regulating international
trade in wild plants and animals. The 122 member states meet biennially
to determine which species need to be added, deleted, or have
their status of protection changed under the treaty's three appendices
of protected species. Species subject to regulation under CITES
are afforded one of three levels of protection: Appendix I covers
species threatened with extinction; Appendix II is applied to
species not yet threatened with extinction but which may be affected
by trade; and Appendix III includes "all species which any
Party identifies as being subject to regulation within its jurisdiction
for the purpose of preventing or restricting exploitation"
internationally.1 A prerequisite for being a party to CITES is
membership in the United Nations.
In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) defeated the Kuomintang
(KMT), also known as the Chinese Nationalist Party, and seized
control of China. The KMT, which had imposed its rule on the island
of Formosa (later Taiwan) four years earlier, fled to the island,
and set up a government in exile with the purpose of one day recovering
The government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the
KMT each still maintains that it is the legitimate ruling government
of China and that Taiwan is a part of China. Until the early 1970s
the United States recognized the KMT's claim of sovereignty over
China and that the Republic of China (ROC) was a member of the
United Nations (to the exclusion of the PRC). In 1971 the United
States dropped its opposition to seating China in the United Nations
and sought a solution for China's admission (but not at the exclusion
of Taiwan). The ruling KMT refused to consider parallel representation
of the "two Chinas" in the United Nations and, as a
result, was voted out of the organization that same year.
Thus Taiwan is ineligible to join to CITES. The treaty views Taiwan
as a territory of China, which acceded to CITES in 1981. It is
also important to note that due to this unique political situation,
trade between Taiwan and China is viewed as a domestic issue and
therefore does not technically fall within the purview of CITES.
NATURAL HISTORY: STATUS OF THE EIGHT BEAR SPECIES
Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus)
CITES Listing: Appendix I
The Asiatic black bear has the distinction of being found in the
countries that pose the greatest threat to its survival: China,
South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.
Range: The western edge of the range formerly extended from Afghanistan
across Northern Pakistan through northern India into southern
China and Southeast Asia. Populations also occur in eastern Siberia,
possibly in Korea, on Taiwan, and on the southern islands of Japan.
Threats: In addition to habitat loss, the Asiatic black bear is
also a prime target of traditional oriental medicine practitioners
and wanton gourmands. Chinese officials claim the species is numerous
in China. It constitutes the vast majority of bears in China's
farms and is still illegally captured to supplement captive populations.
Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus)
CITES Listing: Appendix I
The spectacled bear is South America's only bear species. Sightings
are extremely rare. One researcher spent four years in the Andes
tracking the spectacled bear saw the bruin only eight times.3
Range: Pockets of populations can be found in the Andes mountain
chain from the Argentine­p;Bolivian border up to western Venezuela.
Threats: Habitat loss and human settlement have reduced spectacled
bear habitat and fragmented the species' populations. An increasing
human population and agricultural development in and near bear
habitat has increased instances of depredation on crops, which
has resulted in bears being killed as nuisance animals.
Sun Bear (Helarctos malayaunus)
CITES Listing: Appendix I
The smallest of the bears, in Thailand the species is known as
the dog bear because of its small size and short hair.
Range: The present range is not well known. The species formerly
ranged in lowland forested areas from northeast India and southern
China, south to Indochina, Sumatra, and Borneo.
Threats: The sun bear faces the triple threat of habitat loss,
poaching for human consumption of meat and body parts, and, due
to its diminutive size and appearance, capture for the pet trade
in Taiwan, Thailand, and other Asian countries.
Thai forestry officials claim at least thirty Thai bears were
shipped to South Korea in a bizarre case in which bear paws were
used as a doping substance to enhance the performance of the host
nation's athletes at the 1988 Olympics.4
American Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
CITES Listing: Appendix II
The American black bear is the most numerous of the eight bear
Population: The North American total was estimated at between
655,000 and 681,000 in 1992, including 200,000 in Alaska, 170,000
to 185,000 in the continental United States, and 285,000 to 295,000
Range: Historically the bear has occurred throughout most of North
America with the exception of southwestern U.S. deserts and the
tundra areas of northern Canada. Today American black bears are
most plentiful in Alaska, Canada, and the western United States.
The black bear also occurs in the upper Great Lakes region, New
England, New York, the Appalachian mountains, and northern Mexico.
Threats: The American black bear is threatened by illegal capture
for the gall bladders for the traditional oriental medicine trade
and bear paws for use in medicine and in exotic and tonifying
Sloth Bear (Melurus ursinus)
CITES Listing: Appendix I
Prior to 1988, when the species was still listed on CITES' Appendix
II, extensive imports of sloth bear gall bladders-681 kilograms
over an eleven­p;year period-were reported from India into
Japan, prompting Indian officials to request an Appendix I listing
Range: The sloth bear occurs in the dry forests of India, Sri
Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan.
Threats: The sloth bear is threatened by habitat loss and demand
for gall bladders and paws.
Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
CITES Listing: Appendix I
Despite the death penalty for poaching and trading in panda skins
in China, the species is still hunted.
Population: Fewer than 1,100 animals7
Range: The giant panda occurs in just twenty­p;five isolated
populations in central China.
Threats: The giant panda faces threats from habitat loss, poaching,
and unstable bamboo food supply.
Polar Bear (Ursus maritumus)
CITES Listing: Appendix II
The polar bear is the largest of all bears and is adapted for
life in the sea and on ice.
Population: Between 20,000 and 30,0008
Range: The polar bear's range covers coastal areas in Greenland,
Norway, the former Soviet Union, Canada, and the United States
as well as on Arctic sea ice within 300 kilometers of land.
Threats: Toxic chemicals have been detected in polar bear tissue
samples, indicating an increasingly contaminated food source.
Exploration for oil and gas increases instances of human contact
and the likelihood that local populations could be threatened
directly or via contamination of the food source from possible
Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)
CITES Listing: Appendix I and II
(The now likely extinct Mexican population of the North American
grizzly, and the two Asian subspecies U. arctos isabellinus, known
as the Red Bear, and U. arctos pruinosis, or the Tibetan blue
bear, are listed under Appendix I, all others under Appendix II.)
Scientists originally named the species Ursus horribilis. Early
North American pioneers who lost livestock and, occasionally,
human life to grizzlies set out on a campaign to "eliminate
Population: The North American population numbered perhaps as
high as 100,000 in the last century. Today approximately 40,000
survive in Alaska, 25,000 in Canada, and fewer than 1,000 in the
lower forty­p;eight states.10
Range: The brown bear is the most widespread of any bear species
and once ranged throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Today
the North American population occurs in Alaska, Canada, and five
separate populations in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington-just
2 percent of its original habitat in the lower forty­p;eight
Threats: Like the Asiatic black bear, the brown bear is coveted
by traditional pharmacists and gourmets in China and other Asian
markets. Loss of habitat and insularization of populations are
The decline in brown bear populations in North America and Europe
has been fairly well documented. As early as 3000 B.C., human
encroachment lead to the extinction of some brown bear subpopulations.12
The trend continued and, over the last century, even intensified.
The widespread use of firearms over the last 100 years has been
especially responsible for significant reductions in bear numbers
In the western United States in the 1850s, outside of Alaska,
brown or grizzly bear numbers were estimated at 100,000.14 Brown
bear populations probably began declining when native Americans
started hunting the great plains on horseback.15 It was the European
invasion, however, that had the greatest influence. Settlers claimed
and farmed habitat, resulting in bear predation on livestock and
occasional attacks on humans. A backlash by farmers reduced populations
so much that by the early 1900s estimates were that fewer than
1,000 brown bears survived in the lower forty­p;eight states.16
The species had completely vanished in Texas by 1890, California
by 1922, Oregon by 1931, and Arizona by 1935.17
Considerably less is known about brown and other bear species
in Asia. Christopher Servheen, cochair of the International Union
for the Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC)
Bear Specialist Group, states in "The Status and Conservation
of the Bears of the World" that data on the Asiatic black
bear, sloth bear, and sun bear are minimal and that distribution
information on the three species is questionable.
In the past decade, however, Servheen and others have documented
significant levels of trade in Asia's bears.18 Their investigations
and anecdotal information paint a grim picture. For example, a
total of 681 kilograms of what were reported as sloth bear (Melursinus
ursinus) gall bladders were exported out of India from 1978 to
February 1988.19 Depending on the average weight of the gall bladders,
the trade total represents the death of anywhere from 8,011 to
17,025 bears. At that time the sloth bear was not listed under
the CITES appendices, so the figure may also represent gall bladders
from other CITES­p;listed species, which were laundered into
trade as sloth bear gall bladders.
It was Japan that received the alleged sloth bear gall bladder
exported from India. During the 1980s Japan also received bear
gall bladders from other sources, most notably China. Trade Records
Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC) Japan estimates
that from 1979 to 1984 China exported between 7,000 and 37,000
bear gall bladders to Japan.20 Japanese customs statistics show
that from 1988 to 1990 another 1,051 kilograms of bear gall bladders,
representing another 10,000 bears, were imported.
In the 1980s anecdotal information offered a glimpse of China's
extensive trade in bear parts, particularly of the Asiatic black,
or moon bear, so named because of the prominent crescent­p;shaped
white mark on the chest. In a one hour period in a market in Chengdu,
the capital of Sichuan Province, Terry Domico, author of Bears
of the World counted "parts and skeletons" of 168 dead
moon bears.21 In 1988 a Canadian researcher reported that at any
given time "well over fifty specimens from Asiatic black
bears" were available in Chengdu's medicine markets.22 In
other areas, such as Yunnan, Guangzhou, and northeastern China,
the situation must have been similar.
China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea (the Republic of Korea [ROK])
have the distinction of being both host (or, in the case of the
ROK, former host) and consumer of the moon bear. China and Japan
notwithstanding, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan may actually
be the greatest threats to the survival of the world's bears.23
The South Korean appetite for bear parts-for medicine and consumption-at
home and abroad is legendary. From the mid­p;1980s to the early
1990s, Thailand was the most popular (or at least the best­p;documented)
destination for Korea's gourmands. Stories abound of bears being
boiled alive, lowered in cages onto hot coals while still alive,
or being bludgeoned to death to get what one Thai described as
the "fear juices" flowing to make the bear more tasty.24
It is a widely held belief in many parts of Asia that bears, primates,
and other cherished endangered species taste better when adrenaline
is forced to flow during drawn out, violent beatings just before
the animal is killed.
These slaughters are said to take place in front of salivating
patrons. Thailand­p;based Irish conservationist Shane Beary
once watched a group of Koreans eat bear. The tourists, seated
in a circle, "calmly watched bears being hit with sticks
before being suspended in a net above a large cauldron and lowered
into boiling water to be cooked alive."25
In a case in July 1991, Thai officials raided a Korean­p;run
farm near Bangkok and found four freshly slain bears, forty tourists
(mostly Korean nationals, some of whom were dining on bear at
the time), seven live bears, and forty­p;eight refrigerated
bear paws.26 Records from sales of bear gall bladders and bear
paws were also discovered. Upon further investigation, Thai police
learned that the farm had been advertised in South Korea and Taiwan.27
So convinced are South Koreans that bear meat is nonpareil as
a tonifying food that some thirty sun bears were smuggled out
of Thailand to boost the performance of Seoul's athletes when
the republic hosted the 1988 Olympic Games.28
Despite the popularity of eating bear paws and meat, in Korea
it is the demand for gall bladders that spells disaster for the
world's bears. Import statistics show that from 1985 to 1989 South
Korea imported 25,000 grams of bear gall bladder.29 From 1980
to 1984, 382 live bears were imported.30 The republic's reported
import statistics unquestionably reflect a mere fraction of the
number of live bears and gall bladders that have entered the country.
The insatiable demand for bear gall bladders, paws, and meat in
Asia, combined with human population growth and bear habitat loss
in range states, resulted in a CITES Appendix I listing of the
sun bear in 1975, the Asiatic black bear in 1979 (Baluchistan
spp. in 1977), and the sloth bear in 1988.
Having severely depleted their own bear populations, Asia's illicit
wildlife traders have recently begun looking to North America
for gall bladders. According to Great Smoky Mountains National
Park biologist Bill Cook, in the mid­p;1980s up to 65 percent
of the black bears killed in some areas were illegally taken.31
By 1988, in California alone the illegal trade in bear parts was
worth an estimated $100 million a year.32 In New York City the
first bear parts trade­p;related murder occurred in late 1991.33
To combat the increased trade, U.S. wildlife enforcement officials
embarked on a series of long­p;term, costly investigations
to identify and prosecute hunters, middlemen, and buyers illegally
trafficking in bear parts. A sampling of some of the investigations
· Operation Berkshire was a two­p;and­p;a­p;half­p;year
investigation, ending in 1989, carried out by the Massachusetts
Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law Enforcement
and the New York Bureau of Environmental Investigation in Albany.
The probe netted seven men who were charged with 300 counts of
hunting violations. Of the seven, three served sixty days in
jail and were fined. The gang targeted bears and other species,
selling their by­p;products on the black market.34
· In the late 1980s Operation Smokey netted more than
300 bear gall bladders over a three­p;year period and resulted
in arrests in three states in the Smoky Mountains.35
· As of 1989, investigations under Operation Trophy Kill,
a nine­p; state operation, yielded more than fifty arrests
for poaching bears, deer, and other species.36
· Operation Ursus ended in February 1988. This twenty­p;three­p;
month investigation spanned the northern California black bear
range and Asian communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Fifty­p;two arrests were made, and $105,000 in goods were
confiscated, including three mounted bear cubs, eighty­p;
eight bear claws, and thirty­p;seven bear gall bladders.37
· In January 1994 under Operation Asian Ursus, California
Department of Fish and Game (DFG) officials arrested Jim Taek
Lee, a Korean American who advertised northern California hunting
trips in South Korean and California Asian language newspapers.
At least thirty black bears were killed and their parts sold
in California and Korea, perhaps for as much as $600,000. A DFG
agent noted that the case was significant because it marked the
first known incidents of people being solicited from outside
the United States to come to California to illegally hunt bears.38
· A one­p;and­p;a­p;half­p;year investigation
spanning four states resulted in the June 1994 arrest of Joseph
S. Chang, a Rosemead, California, businessman, for trafficking
in bear gall bladders.39 Chang purchased 164 bear gall bladders
on one occasion from undercover wildlife wardens and bragged
to California DFG agents that he had purchased as many as 500
bear gall bladders at a time. The DFG believes Chang sold bear
gall bladders in South Korea, Russia, China, and Alaska.
The operations underscore the relative ease with which visiting
Asians and America­p;based Asian traders are able to tap into
America's poaching networks or establish their own systems to
obtain gall bladders and meat. The investigations also provided
a further look at the scope of the trade and international market
demand. One Operation Berkshire undercover officer saw two thousand
bear gall bladders at one time in New York City's Chinatown.40
Although the market is driven by Asian demand, traditional apothecaries
in North American Asian communities maintain stockpiles of bear
parts for their own clientele. A California Fish and Game Department
officer believes "virtually every traditional Chinese pharmacy
either has galls on the premises or can obtain them on short notice."41
Conversations the authors have had with Taiwanese nationals residing
in, or frequently visiting Vancouver, British Columbia, and Los
Angeles support this premise.
Not much information was available to the authors concerning poaching
in Canada, where as many as 22,000 bears are legally killed each
year,42 however, anecdotal incidents hint at significant illicit
A consignment of one thousand (presumably legal) Canadian black
bear gall bladders were reported lost when an Air India flight
bound for Bombay went down in 1985.43 Illegal trade is also evident:
a buyer in Manitoba was tried in 1992 for illegally possessing
200 gall bladders;44 in 1989 an Alaska resident was arrested in
Canada while attempting to purchase fifty bear gall bladders,
which were said to have come from British Columbia;45 and in 1991
two Korean nationals were apprehended at Chicago's O'Hare International
Airport with 168 black bear gall bladders of Canadian origin,
which were purportedly ultimately bound for Japan and Alaska.46
In interviews, Canadian hunters and those familiar with hunting
practices in Canada told the authors that bear gall bladders from
legally and illegally taken bears are regularly sold to Asian
buyers for prices ranging from $100 to $150 or more. A Parks Canada
official confirms that poached bear carcasses are occasionally
found with only their gall bladders removed.47
Alaska's grizzly bears and black bears are targeted by poachers,
and, like elsewhere in North America, parts from legally taken
bears are traded illegally on the international market. Mr. Joe
Campbell, Alaska State Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection
Commander, says that most cases of trafficking in bear gall bladders
by non­p;U.S. citizens involve nationals from the Republic
of Korea. Mr. Campbell said that a recent Anchorage Daily News
article reported that South Koreans are Alaska's fastest growing
Traders in Anchorage, Juneau, and other Alaskan cities use legitimate
businesses as fronts. In one city, a clothes alteration shop provides
the setting in which potential gall bladder suppliers are approached.48
Travel agencies recruit travelers to carry gall bladders out of
country.49 In one particular travel agency catering to Korean
nationals, a prominently placed sign, written in Korean, encourages
visitors to ask about ways to reduce the cost of their vacation.
Upon inquiry, customers learn that if they are willing to carry
gall bladders into Seoul's Kimpo International Airport, and perhaps
other destinations, they will be well paid for their trouble.
The North Pacific Ocean provides a second avenue for trafficking
contraband bear gall bladders. South Korean vessels frequently
call on various Alaskan ports to haul lumber back to the Far East.
Bear gall bladders, paws, and meat can be easily concealed aboard
these cavernous vessels. At present the extent of smuggling of
bear gall bladders and other contraband out of Alaska is unknown.50
Forty thousand black bears are legally killed in North America
each year.51 An unknown portion of these animals' parts are illegally
traded on international markets. Another unknown factor is the
number of bears poached to meet market demand. Preliminary findings
of an upcoming report by TRAFFIC USA show that not enough information
concerning the bear parts trade in North America is available
to judge the impact of the trade on the bears' status in the wild.52
Even if North America's bears are, at present, holding their own,
their future is by no means secure. As Asian communities in Canada
and the United States grow and prosper, and as bear populations
in Asia are further depleted, the threat to the continent's bear
populations will increase.
Chinese crime syndicates in Vancouver, British Columbia, may be
a harbinger of the future for North American cities.53 If Asian
organized crime syndicates-which already control the flow of the
majority of heroin imported into Canada and the United States-should
become involved in the illegal wildlife trade, as bear gall bladder
continues to increase in value, North America's bears could be
at serious risk.
RUSSIA'S KAMCHATKA PENINSULA
If bears in the United States and Canada are not yet being taken
in unsustainable numbers, there is one very good reason. Actually,
there are thousands of reasons, each manifested in the form of
a brown bear carcass littering Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, once
viewed as one of the bear capitals of the world. The collapse
of the former Soviet Union has sounded the death knell for the
Environmental journalist Eric Sievers, who has witnessed the devastation
on the Siberian peninsula, recently wrote, "Because of the
social and economic deterioration in the country, combined with
severe political instability and shakeups, governmental agencies
are not able to protect nature or even able to focus attention
on the plight of the bear."54 The money received for poaching
bears in the economically depressed region is enough to enable
the poacher to afford an apartment or a car-incentives that far
outweigh ethical or conservation considerations.
Kamchatka's proximity to Japan, the Korean peninsula, and the
two Chinas provides unfortunate convenience to poachers and buyers.
Asian buyers need only look for signs posted on the streets of
Petropaviovsk, Kamchatka's capital, or in local newspapers to
find bear gall bladders for sale.55 In addition, the demand for
bear skins in western Europe has escalated the carnage.56
The results have been devastating. Although legal kills from 1990
through spring 1992 (the most recent time figures available) were
fewer than 2,000, researcher Vitaly Nikolaenko estimates the total
number of bears killed over that same period to be 5,000.57 And
the carnage shows no signs of abating. One Alaskan official believes
that, based on available data, Kamchatka's bears are being eliminated
at a rate six to seven times higher than the population can stand.
In a recent interview, Mr. Nikolaenko was asked how much time
is left to Kamchatka's bears. He replied that it is already too
late. Nikolaenko says that, even if Moscow decides to intervene
to protect the peninsula's bears, by the time action is taken
the bears will be reduced to an unviable, relict population of
isolated animals.58 When Russia's bears are gone, by default,
North America's bears will be next in line.
Prior to 1989, killing bears for their parts was "legal and
encouraged,"59 but today all hunting and trade in bear parts
are forbidden.60 Under China's Wild Animal Protection Law, effective
on March 1, 1989, both sun bears, which probably no longer inhabit
China,61 and pandas rate Class I listings-the highest level of
protection possible. Wildlife listed in this category are "endangered
in or peculiar to" China and hunting and trading in their
specimens is "strictly forbidden." However, black and
brown bears are afforded only Class II protection. Class II applies
to animals found in China whose numbers, "though considerable
at present, are dwindling markedly." Species in this category,
"subject to approval of competent state authorities, may
be caught at specified times and places."62
Black bears, also known as moon bears, are the most common species
found in China's bear farms, but brown bears are also farmed.
PRC officials claim black bears are numerous and estimate the
population in Sichuan province alone at between 20,000 and 21,000.63
One bear expert calls this estimate extremely optimistic, saying
that it is probably off by 15,000 to 18,000 animals. Neither of
the species' country­p;wide population is known.
Responding to criticism from abroad and the threat of trade restrictions
from the United States under provisions of the Pelly Amendment
to the Fishermen's Protective Act of 1967,64 in 1993 China increased
enforcement of its Wildlife Conservation Law. Besides outlawing
trade in medicines containing tiger bone and rhinoceros horn,
the National People's Congress and the State Council organized
more than forty thousand wildlife protection law inspectors to
investigate 3,185 markets and 30,085 restaurants and hotels.65
The crackdown, carried out to "vindicate effectively the
honor of the law and suppress criminal activity," netted
Despite this effort, in early 1994 the authors still found widespread
trade in bear parts. Braised bear paws were openly advertised
in one location and uncooked paws and meat were offered in others.
Whole bear gall bladders were for sale, and despite claims to
the contrary, we discovered that bears are routinely captured
from the wild for a life of incarceration in China's farms.
China's wildlife conservation authorities seem willing to try
to stamp out the endangered species trade. Unfortunately, the
growing spending power of a small portion of the population; continued
demand for contraband products from Taiwanese, Korean and other
foreign nationals; and increased autonomy and lack of provincial
law enforcement make effective enforcement a daunting task. As
organized crime, graft, and corruption increase (factors that
show the central government is losing its grip on Chinese society)66
the status of the country's, and region's, bears and other wildlife
can only worsen.
In early 1994, author Suzie Chang Highley, an overseas Chinese
fluent in Chinese­p;Mandarin, visited two bear farms, one in
Guangdong Province and the other on the outskirts of Kunming,
the capital of Yunnan Province in southeastern China. She also
spoke with representatives and individuals familiar with other
farms located in somewhat more remote areas of Yunnan. Pharmacies,
hotels, and Friendship stores (government­p;run tourist shops)
were also visited to determine the availability and range of products
containing milked bile.
While surveying pharmacies, the author inquired about the purchase
of bear gall bladder, either whole or in prescription form, before
surveying for availability of farmed bile products. Some traditional
medicine pharmacies in China offer mostly manufactured medicines,
while others offer raw herbal medicines. Still other pharmacies
stock both raw herbs and manufactured medicines. The author carried
a prescription calling for bear gall bladder and, depending on
the situation, either presented the prescription or inquired about
the purchase of whole bear gall bladders.
The exchange rate used for PRC currency Ren Min Bi (RMB) amounts
given in this report is RMB8.68 to US$1.00.
The Chinese have a history of farming wildlife. In the 1950s musk
deer farms sprang up to meet growing demand.67 Today, civets,
pangolins, flying squirrels, snakes, turtles, frogs, toads, scorpions,
and various types of fish and insects are also captive­p;bred.68
Even sea horses, prized libidinal aids, are purportedly bred in
captivity, but those claims have been refuted as "spurious."69
In an attempt to legalize trade in tiger bone, in 1985 the PRC
established the Breeding Center of Felidae Animals in Heilongjiang
Province to breed Siberian tigers.70
China began experimenting with bear bile extraction techniques
in the 1980s.71 In 1985 the China News Agency announced that because
of raw material shortages for medicines, the Chinese Crude Drugs
Company planned to raise bears in captivity and extract their
Bear farms are regulated under the License Regulation on Domestication
and Breeding of Animals. The 1991 law requires that "suitable
technology and other conditions" be met before a farm can
be legally established.73 According to the Ministry of Forestry,
all bears pressed into service on China's farms were captured
from the wild before 1989 or bred in captivity.74
By 1991, government approved bear farms in Sichuan, Yunnan, Shanxi,
Guangdong, Heilongjiang, and Jilin provinces held between 6,000
and 8,000 bears.75 According to Forestry Vice­p;minister Shen
Mao Cheng, there is approval to farm only about 5,000 bears.76
But at the Third East Asiatic Bear Conference held in Beijing
(August 4­p;8, 1994) it was reported that there are now nearly
10,000 bears on "hundreds" of farms.77
In 1993 an investigator visited several farms in Sichuan Province
where nonsanctioned family­p;run facilities have sprung up
to capitalize on the boom in demand for bear bile.78 These small
operations house only a few animals each but three to four such
farms are said to exist in each of over 100 villages in one part
PRC officials say that the gall produced by a single bear in one
year is equal to that obtained by killing forty­p;four wild
bears and that over a bear's five­p;year production span, 220
wild bears' lives are spared.80 Thus, the benefits of extracting
bile from captive bears are said to be threefold: farming protects
bears in the wild, produces revenue, and contributes to the prevention
and treatment of human disease.81
During this investigation the authors found that while the second
of the goals, increased revenue, is true, the benefits to wild
populations of farming bears are unsubstantiated. We also discovered
that some products marketed that contain farmed bile fall far
short of aiding in the "prevention and treatment of human
The first farm we visited, the Guangzhou City Tianhu Deer Farm,
is in Chonghua, Guangdong Province, approximately three hours
from Guangzhou by car. The facility is small, housing some fifty
bears, and is located within what is a reportedly protected area.
The name and address came from a contact in Taiwan who had been
told that Taiwanese businessmen had invested in the farm in order
to maintain a steady supply of bile for distribution in Taiwan.
Prior to visiting, the author arranged a meeting with one of the
farm's managers to discuss purchasing a large quantity of bile
products for export to Taiwan. At the Tianhu farm the author met
Mr. Liao Guichu, the factory manager. Mr. Liao confirmed that
Taiwanese businessmen are investors, but he would not say to what
Inside the farm a showroom displays the facility's many products.
Besides bile crystals in small, one gram viles, visitors to the
farm are offered bile juice for RMB30 ($3.50) per shot glass and
Flying Deer Shower Gel, which also contained bile, for RMB15 ($1.75)
per bottle. The purpose of the gel, according to the label, is
to "give your skin special care, eliminate skin inflammation,
and provide your skin with various nutrients, keeping it smooth
and soft, and giving you a refreshed feeling." The discovery
of Flying Deer Shower Gel made us wonder just how many other cosmetic
products are produced in the scores of farms across the country.
According to Mr. Liao, Tianhu Deer Farm's fifty bears produce
100 kilograms of bile each year at a profit of $69,100 per year.
When chided about the relatively small output and asked what he
would do when demand exceeded supply, Liao replied that he would
simply capture more bears. Adding to the existing stock, he said,
would be an "easy" matter.
When asked to see the bears, Mr. Liao told the author that she
could have a tour when she was ready to make a substantial purchase.
Left alone at one point during the visit, the author was able
to hold a still camera over a wall surrounding the compound and
photograph the rows of caged bears. The photos revealed Asiatic
black bears in what seems to be the industry standard three­p;by­p;four­p;foot
cages, raised a few feet off the ground.
The photographs also revealed that the Tianhu bears wear abdominal
plates, held tightly in place by a harness. The plates conceal
a catheter and a collection sack into which the bile drains. Larger
bears are milked once a day and smaller animals once every three
To the best of our knowledge, only two conservationists, Judy
Mills and Christopher Servheen, have ever seen a milking. The
following text describes an event they witnessed on a South Korean
farm in 1991:
The owner went over to one of the harnessed black bears that was
small and had a badly scabbed nose. The bear woofed and snapped
its jaws, obviously angered. The owner used a metal pole to harass
the bear into a narrow portion of its cage. As his wife distracted
the bear with a pan of sweets, a door was lowered and metal rods
inserted to confine the bear and keep its legs from interfering
with its abdomen. [The owner] reached in, unlocked the metal panel
and a plastic bag attached to a catheter dropped down. The bag
was half full of a green­p;brown liquid. The bear scraped and
clawed wildly at the cage while the owner then extracted the liquid
from the bag with an oversized hypodermic needle, withdrawing
2 full syringes. The process took approximately 5 minutes, after
which the bear's tap was again locked behind a metal plate and
the bear bounded angrily back into its living quarters.82
While in Guangzhou City the authors visited Yue Shou Park. The
entrance ticket advertised a Guangzhou distributor of bile products
manufactured by the Kunming Jindian Pharmaceutical Factory, also
known as the Gold Bear Farm, located in Kunming, Yunnan. The ticket
promoted Gold Bear Oral Liquid as the best bear bile product on
the market and listed the tonic's many claims: It reduces high
blood pressure, protects the liver and gall bladder, dissolves
gallstones, reduces body heat, detoxifies the body, and treats
hacking coughs and asthma.
Upon visiting Gold Bear's Guangzhou office, the author was invited
to visit the facility. Gold Bear is a state­p;owned operation
located on a military installation that also houses a canine breeding
business, which supplies the pet trade. The base is a training
camp for military veterinarians who care for the bears and dogs.
The bears' environment at Gold Bear was vastly different from
the conditions in the Tianhu Deer Farm in Guangdong. In contrast
to other facilities, the cages at Gold Bear were large enough
for the bears to stand upright and take a few steps from one side
to the other. The facility was also clean.
According to an on­p;site manager, Mr. Zhang,83 there are 100
bears at Gold Bear and room for 100 more. Feeding each animal
costs RMB5,000 ($576) annually. Each bear earns the facility approximately
RMB25,000 ($2,880) per year from an output of between 1 to 2.5
kilograms of bile. The bears are milked from age one.
These figures contrast with those of what seems to be China's
premier facility, the Deer Farm of Sichuan Provincial Chinese
Traditional Medicine Corporation. There bears are subjected to
the surgery only after reaching age three and after attaining
a body weight of 100 kilograms.84 On average, each of the Sichuan
farm's milking bears produce 3 kilograms of bile per year.85
All of Gold Bears' animals have had stainless steel taps surgically
implanted by the veterinary staff. The same veterinarians also
performed the procedure on the approximately 100 bears on a farm
in Dali, also in Yunnan Province, for a price of RMB3,000 ($345)
The stainless steel taps, which were described as being similar
in function to a water faucet, are viewed by Zhang as somewhat
of a breakthrough in bile extraction. Zhang feels strongly that
the older milking techniques with its abdominal plates (vests)
and constant drainage of bile is harmful to the bears. The tubing
used to drain bile from vested bears lends itself to infection,
whereas the steel taps can be flushed out to reduce the chance
of infection. Zhang also claims that vested bears must be given
some form of anesthesia prior to each milking-a procedure previously
unheard of. According to Zhang all bears in Guangdong Province
and Ruili (Yunnan Province) wear abdominal plates, despite problems
with infection and product quality. The bile extracted from vested
bears, he maintains, is inferior to that of tapped bears.
During multiple visits to Gold Bear, the author noticed that the
bears, all of them moon bears, varied greatly in size, ranging
from adults to very small animals, perhaps under one year old.
When asked whether the younger bears were captive­p;bred offspring,
Zhang said that all were captured in Burma (Myanmar) and China.
For domestically obtained bears, hunting licenses are issued at
the provincial level. If the facility ever expands, bears can
be easily obtained from Burma or within China. He quoted the current
market price for an adult black bear as RMB8,000 ($922) and RMB3,000
($346) for a juvenile.
Zhang said the Dali farm mentioned above is privately owned but,
like Gold Bear, is located on a military installation. A clerk
selling products from the Dali farm said that none of the 100
bears at Dali were from captive­p;bred stock.
Yet another farm, the Nationality [sic] Pharmaceutical Factory,86
in Ruili, is located near the Burma border in southwestern Yunnan
Province. Ruili is a well­p;known entry point for illegal drugs
and wildlife products brought into China from Burma. A Kunming­p;based
distributor for the Ruili farm, which was established in 1983,
says that none of the site's 300 bears are from captive­p;bred
stock. According to the representative, the Ruili facility is
now contemplating captive breeding-not out of conservation considerations
but because the cost of using wild­p;caught bears to meet their
goal of "500 milking bears by the year 2000" would be
The Nationality [sic] Pharmaceutical Factory produces 300 to 400
kilograms of bile per year. The representative explained that
every 30 to 40 kilograms of freshly extracted bile, after drying,
weighs approximately ten kilograms. According to a pamphlet describing
the facility, both Asiatic black and brown bears are used in the
Taiwanese nationals regularly visit the Ruili distributor's shop,
which is located in the heart of Kunming City. Taiwanese customers
frequently hand carry as much as 7 to 8 kilograms of bile crystals
back to Taiwan in suitcases, according to the representative.
The facility's wholesale cost of a kilogram of bile is RMB17,250
Taiwanese also frequently inquire about purchasing whole bear
gall bladders. The representative claims that when a bear dies,
the entire animal is buried because it is illegal to sell the
parts. While the distributor may actually believe this to be the
case, it is highly unlikely that any of the farms in China would
pass up the opportunity to profit by selling a dead animal's gall
bladder or other parts.
While in Beijing attending the CITES Animals Committee meeting
in May, the authors were told of the Badaling Bear Park, also
known as the Badaling Bear Paradise. For the purpose of education,
the park houses 380 black bears, all of which are kept in three
concrete pits, measuring roughly twenty feet by fifty feet. While
the facility is relatively clean, it is anything but a paradise
for its tenants, several of whom exhibited clear signs of dementia
from living in such cramped quarters.
A few Chinese government officials said that the Badaling bears
were all bred in captivity; however, a conversation with four
park employees revealed the truth: The park's owner also owns
a bear farm in Jilin Province. He had been collecting bears with
the expectation of moving them onto a new farm, but for unknown
reasons he was denied permission. Two of the farm's caretakers
confirmed that all of the Badaling bears are taken from the wild.
One even said they had three sun bears (which the authors saw),
a species they cannot legally keep. None of the bears have reached
breeding age, but some will be used in a captive breeding operation
in the future.
It is hard to determine the precise ages of the Badaling bears.
During the visit, an accompanying biologist estimated some of
the animals to be less than two years old. It is quite likely
that a portion of the Badaling bears will be moved to their owner's
farm in the future.
Availability of Bear Gall Bladders
Detailed market surveys on the availability of bear gall bladders
have not been carried out in China, where the sale of gall bladders
has been illegal since 1989. A few facts do show, however, that
over the past fifteen years, in China alone, tens of thousands
of bears have been killed to satiate Asia's appetite for bear
· From 1979 to August 1988 TRAFFIC Japan estimated
that between 11,000 and 59,000 bear gall bladders were imported
into Japan from China.87 Import statistics show that from 1988
to 1990 China exported another 1,051 kilograms of bear gall bladders
to Japan- representing perhaps another 10,000 bears.88
· In a Chengdu marketplace, during a one­p;hour period,
two men viewed the "skeletons and parts" of 168 black
bears.89 Other surveys have reported similar numbers.90
· South Korean nationals visiting northeastern China are
notorious for smuggling bear gall bladders out of the country.
To combat the smuggling, the Heilongjiang government issued a
ban on bear gall bladder exports until 1995.91 In 1991 the decree
had yet to stop the outflow, as ROK visitors, some wearing clothing
designed to hide the fig­p;size gall bladders, continued to
smuggle the contraband out of the country.92
Although this investigation did not include Chengdu, the capital
of Sichuan, IFAW investigators report that in November 1993 they
were offered bear gall bladders and bear paws in Chengdu's Chinese
medicine market.93 Prices quoted to the investigators were RMB2,000
($230) per gall bladder or RMB40,000 ($4,608) per kilogram.
No information is available about Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces
to the Northeast. Mills and Servheen say that Heilongjiang and
Jilin may comprise "China's last, best bear habitat,"94
thus poaching and trade in bear parts certainly occur there.
The scope of the investigation covered by this report encompassed
Guangzhou, Shanghai, Dalian in Liaoning Province, and Kunming
in Yunnan Province. Products containing farmed bile were widely
available but only in Guangzhou were merchants willing to sell
whole gall bladders.
Guangzhou merchants are well known for trading in protected and
endangered wildlife. In the city's notorious Qingping market,
wildlife products ranging from dried seahorses and snakes to live
turtles, pangolins, and even peacocks are sold for human consumption.
Trucks laden with live bears bound for Guangzhou restaurants or
other markets have been widely noted (see section on bear paws).
In the 1980s rhinoceros horn was openly available in local pharmacies95
In 1993, after the state­p;mandated May 29 ban on trade in
rhino horn, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigators
were offered more than one ton of rhinoceros horn by Guangzhou
Four of thirteen pharmacies visited in Guangzhou offered the author
whole bear gall bladders, or what were purported to be bear gall
bladders. A few of the pharmacies offered only manufactured medicines;
however, the author inquired about purchasing whole bear gall
bladders in these shops anyway. Prices were quoted by the gram
in two of these pharmacies. These shops offered a discounted price
for whole gall bladders and slightly higher prices for smaller
purchases. In the first case, a gall bladder weighing 144 grams
was quoted at RMB48.82 ($5.62) per gram for the entire bladder
and RMB64.54 ($7.44) per gram for part thereof. In the second
case, prices were RMB50 ($5.76) per gram for the entire gall bladder
and RMB70 ($8.06) per gram for a portion. The gall bladder in
the latter pharmacy weighed 90 grams. The author was urged to
buy the gall bladder because, although the pharmacist was willing
to check with her warehouse, she could not say for sure whether
or not they could get more gall bladders in the near future. A
third shop offered bear gall bladder for RMB51 ($5.87) per gram.
In Guangzhou, the most significant indicator of substantial trade
came when the investigator visited the Guangzhou City Raw Medicine
Trade Center, a wholesale outlet. Mr. Zhou Zhi­p;wei, a manager
at the center, was willing to sell whole bear gall bladders for
RMB35,000 ($4,032) per kilogram. Zhou said he frequently sells
bear gall bladders, several kilograms at a time, to Taiwanese
nationals. In March 1994 he sold his entire on­p;hand stock
of 8 kilograms to a Taiwanese man who had hoped to purchase even
more. Zhou had already begun collecting more whole gall bladders
to sell to the next buyer. He was extremely confident that in
the near future he could sell 10 kilograms or more at a time.
On July 12, the author phoned Mr. Zhou from Taiwan to inquire
about purchasing 5 kilograms of bear gall bladder. Zhou said that
he did not have that amount in his possession but that when the
author next visited Guangzhou he could arrange the transaction.
Another pharmacy in Guangzhou was the site of an odd encounter.
When queried, the shopkeeper stated he had just received a government
notice forbidding any further sale of bear gall bladders. Nonetheless,
the shopkeeper invited the author to the shop's second floor,
where he unlocked a safe and pulled out packaged bile crystals
from Jilin and Heilongjiang. Both products were and still are
legal, but the store owner genuinely thought they were illegal.
Perhaps he misunderstood their origin and believed they contained
bile from wild bears. The perplexed author did not prompt him
about buying the crystals, but in the end, despite his perception
of illegality, he offered to sell them.
The pharmacist's behavior might have been because of recent efforts
by Chinese officials to stop the trade in other endangered species.
The authors' investigation in Guangzhou in April 1994 came less
than a year after the May 1993 Public Notice banning the use of
rhinoceros horn and tiger bone. The circular called for an immediate
halt to production of medicines containing the two substances.
It also allowed a six­p;month grace period, ending November
30, 1993, for traders to dispose of existing stocks containing
these products. Although trade in bear gall bladders had previously
been outlawed, the official notice referred to by the pharmacist
may have been a reminder handed down from the state or provincial
In China bear paws are served as an expensive entree in some restaurants
and can be purchased in a small number of pharmacies. Consumption,
however, is illegal under China's 1989 Wildlife Protection Law.97
Bear paws are also a popular food in South Korea and Japan. To
satisfy market demand, in the 1970s an estimated 900 kilograms
of bear paws per year were exported from China to Japan.98 That
figure decreased to an average of 500 to 600 kilograms per year
in the late 1980s.99 In 1990 4,000 kilograms of bear paws destined
for Japan and Korea, in contravention of CITES, was intercepted
in the port city of Dalian.100 The paws had been illegally collected
by Chinese Forestry officials.
For the domestic market, Mills and Servheen report that in Harbin
alone an estimated two tons of bear paws were consumed annually
prior to 1989.101 Although the practice is now illegal, it is
likely that in Harbin and other northern areas, citizens consume
substantial quantities of bear paws and meat.
Other documentation shows bear paws being sold in other parts
of China since 1990. Over a one­p;month period in the winter
of 1990, an investigator in southeastern China working for the
TRAFFIC network, viewed over fifty paws from Asiatic black bears
and more than twenty paws from brown bears.102 Paws were offered
to two IFAW investigators in Chengdu in 1993,103 and Taiwanese
nationals who travel to southeastern China also state that paws
are available in restaurants and street markets.
A writer who travels extensively in China says one PRC source
reports seeing an increase in automobiles with Guangzhou license
plates in Yunnan Province. The vehicles are loaded with wildlife
taken illegally from neighboring countries like Laos, Vietnam,
and Burma,104 all of which border Yunnan Province. Bears or bear
parts are more than likely at the top of these traders' shopping
Further documented incidents of illegal trade include some live
shipments of bears that were confiscated. In 1988 six men were
arrested in Guangxi Province with forty live bear cubs taken from
Sichuan Province.105 Another smuggler with nine black bears purchased
in Yunnan was caught in Guangxi as he made his way to Guangzhou.106
Bears smuggled into Guangzhou and other cities in China are probably
sold live to restaurants or butchered and sold piecemeal to local
restaurants and pharmacies.
Bear farms are also a possible source of paws and meat. The owner
of the Wei Zhou Technology Development Centre for Bears in the
Guangdong Province Farm of Animals for Medicinal Use told IFAW
investigators he will consider selling his bears, when they are
beyond their milking prime, to Taiwanese gourmands for a bear
banquet at Hong Kong dollar (HK) 10,000 ($1,152) per bear.107
IFAW investigators visited another operation, the Nanping Bear
Farm of the Special Economic Zone of Zhuhai, on several occasions
in 1993. While documenting the horrendous conditions of the farm,
they also noticed that three of the bears were each missing a
paw.108 IFAW ultimately persuaded the Chinese government to shut
down the facility.109
Nanping farm manager Chan Jin Shi angrily denies reports that
his bears had their paws amputated. During an interview with Chan,
however, a reporter noticed bottles of bear paw liquid lining
the farm's shelves.110 Chan accounted for the liquid by claiming
that he had had two bear deaths due to illness. "The hospital
could not cure them and they died. Therefore we applied for permission
to use the paws in our production of bear paw liquid."111
While in China the authors came across bear paws on only three
occasions: in a hotel restaurant in Dalian, in a village in rural
Guangdong Province, and in a Kunming City pharmacy. At the Beijing
Lou restaurant in Dalian's Regent Hotel, braised bear paws were
advertised on a three­p;sided, revolving, illuminated sign,
with enlarged photos of several dishes, including bear paws. A
waitress at the restaurant claimed the fare was popular as a banquet
entree and was sold "by the table" for RMB5,000 ($576)
or more, depending on the number of diners.
At a small restaurant in Chonghua, a village in Guangdong Province,
the authors inquired about bear paws and tiger meat and were informed
that the restaurant did not serve bear meat or other endangered
species. However, a man who happened to overhear the query said
he could supply bear paws and tiger meat and asked the authors
to accompany him to a different part of the village to discuss
After a quick drive to another restaurant, the man, surnamed Wen,
explained that he could not discuss endangered species at the
other restaurant out of fear of being overheard and turned in
to the authorities. That restaurant is government­p;run, and
tigers and bears, he said, are "number one species on China's
animal protection list."
Wen said that bear paws are available for RMB3,000 ($346) each.
The price included preparation by a chef. Wen added that he would
need advance notice, as the paw takes several days to stew.
Wen also offered tiger meat for between RMB550 ($63) to RMB800
($92) per kilogram, depending on the amount purchased. He claimed
to have 40 kilograms of tiger meat on hand.
The author also saw bear paws at the aptly named Yunnan Rare Drugs
Pharmacy in Kunming City. A pair of what were claimed to be the
rear paws of an Asiatic black bear, priced at RMB270 ($31) per
paw, were prominently displayed in a glass counter along with
elephant hide, deer penises, and other animal products. At a subsequent
visit two weeks later, only one paw was displayed in the window.
During the second visit, the author asked several questions about
using bear paws. The clerk first explained that the shop frequently
sells bear paws: rarely does a pair go unsold for more than a
few weeks. The clerk said she believes that the paws are taken
from bears from northeastern China. She explained that bear paws
can be prepared in a soup or a stew with a wide range of herbs.
She was not familiar with specific medicinal uses, although like
most Chinese, she believes a bear's front paws are more potent
because bears lick them more. The Chinese also prefer front paws
over rear paws because the front paws carry less of the animal's
weight and are, as a result, more tender. The clerk also said
she believes that because bears lick their left paw more than
their right, the left paw is better.
During the course of the conversation the clerk went to the back
of the pharmacy, returned with a small sack, and invited the author
to pull out and examine the contents: two fresh front bear paws,
priced at RMB360 ($41) per paw. The paws were pungent and had
white, fatty oil deposits at the point where the paws were severed.
Discussion and Recommendations
China's conservation officials who speak out in defense of bear
farms may not be aware of the many problems inherent in the industry.
The general feeling among Chinese conservation officials is that
the PRC is under attack by a "small number of international
activists who put undue emphasis on protection and oppose any
opinions that support use of animals."112
To be sure, the bears on China's farms are condemned to a life
of unspeakable mental and physical pain-and animal protection
organizations are right to oppose farming. The goal of the project,
however, was to look beyond the question of the animals' treatment
to the broader question of whether artificial extraction of bear
bile reduces the pressure on bears in the wild.
Taken individually, any one of the farms discussed here might
not be cause for conservation concern. Collectively, however,
the various corroborating comments made by farm managers and industry
representatives paint the picture of an industry out of control.
Specifically, there are three main problems with bear farming:
(1) Bears are illegally wild­p;caught to supplement existing
farm populations. Little is known about the status of China's
bears in the wild. It is extremely unlikely that the black bear
is anywhere near as plentiful as Chinese officials claim. With
this in mind, and based on the findings of this report, the proliferation
of farms stocked with wild­p; caught bears is directly affecting
China's wild populations of the Asiatic black bear and brown bear.
Bears are also being taken, in violation of CITES, from Burma
(Myanmar) and neighboring countries to supply the farm trade in
Although the government claims to discourage the capture of wild
bears (no permits to capture bears have been issued since 1989),
few farms are stocked with anything except wild­p;caught bears.
Of the farms visited or researched during this investigation,
only one, the Nationality [sic] Pharmaceutical Factory in Ruili,
is even contemplating breeding its bears. Economics-not conservation-is
the primary motivation for considering this option; purchasing
enough wild­p;caught bears to meet the farm's ambitious goal
of possessing 500 milking bears by the year 2000 may be financially
prohibitive. Other farms' representatives readily admit that when
the need arises bears are captured from the wild.
The past, present, and projected taking of wild bears probably
occurs on the majority of farms in the PRC. The Sichuan Deer Farm,
which is said to have a captive breeding program, is the exception
rather than the rule. As a result, the day when China's caged
bears outnumber their wild counterparts may come very soon, if
it is not already upon us.
(2) Bear bile is used to create nonessential or even luxury goods.
The thought of subjecting bears to a life of suffering in cages
so small that the animals cannot stand erect or turn around, for
the purpose of extracting bile, is unconscionable to most people.
Proponents of farming argue that the means justify the end because
the extracted bile is used in medicines that prevent and treat
human disease. Too many bear by­p;products, however, are evidence
to the contrary. The fact that shampoo, throat lozenges, hemorrhoid
cream, herbal tea, cough syrup, and cosmetics are the products
of a bear's imprisonment belie claims that the animals' plight
alleviates human suffering.
(3) Aggressive marketing and advertising stands to increase demand
for bile products. In Guangzhou, Gold Bear Oral Liquid is aggressively
marketed as a cure­p;all elixir. Similar marketing practices
exist for other bile products. Government­p;run airports, Friendship
stores, and popular tourist attractions such as the Forbidden
City sell bile crystals in smartly packaged felt­p;lined boxes.
It is difficult to gauge the extent to which these goods are consumed
by the general population. Clerks selling bile products claim
to never have tried them because they are too expensive and say
that they are beyond the financial reach of most people in China.
If these goods, which transcend the traditional uses of bear gall
bladder, should become affordable to the general public, there
is a danger that demand for bear bile will increase. Should this
happen, farm managers will seek to meet demand by increasing output.
The standard method of increasing output, at least in the farms
documented here, is by augmenting their existing stock with wild­p;
It is not clear whether the availability of farmed bile products
has reduced the amount of whole bear gall bladders in trade in
China. This investigation documented relatively few pharmacists
and just one supplier in Guangzhou willing to sell whole bear
gall bladder. That supplier, the Guangzhou City Raw Medicine Trade
Center, regularly sells bear gall bladder by the kilogram-an amount
that indicates that a relatively large number are still in trade.
In addition, no hard evidence exists that the bear gall bladders
on the market in Guangzhou are genuine (as opposed to being from
pigs or other animals) and, if genuine, whether they were obtained
from poached or farmed animals. Analysis of bear gall bladder
samples purchased in a recent study indicate a "strong possibility
that genuine bear gall bladders on sale in Hong Kong are from
farmed bears.113 The samples analyzed indicate that bile acids
secreted by farmed and wild bears may be different, making identification
of the two types of bear gall bladders possible.114
If a portion of the gall bladders offered for sale in Guangzhou
or elsewhere are from farmed bears, it certainly does not mean
that wild bears are not taken whenever possible in their remaining
range in China and sold in markets in Guangzhou, Chengdu, northeastern
China, or exported to South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.
Farmed bear gall bladders possibly make up the majority of genuine
bear gall bladders in Hong Kong. This indicates that when a farmed
bear dies, in many cases, at least its gall bladder is illegally
marketed internationally. Chinese officials often state that bears
on farms live long lives, but the market volume of gall bladders
originating from farmed bears indicates that these bears must
be dying, or are purposely killed to market their gall bladders,
in large numbers.
The findings of this investigation suggest that bear farms do
not contribute to the conservation of wild bears. Artificially
extracted bile may never be seen as a viable alternative to that
of wild bears in other consumer nations. Meeting domestic demand
with captive animals should be possible, however, because so­p;called
patent or processed medicines are accepted and more popular than
raw medicines in China. In fact, officials claim that output already
exceeds demand. But can China's bear farms supply the domestic
market without affecting wild bear populations? At present the
answer is no, but it may be possible in the future.
The two most important steps China can take to lessen the impact
of farms on wild bear populations are (1) to immediately begin
an inventory of all existing farms to determine which facilities
continue to capture bears from the wild and take steps to ensure
the practice is stopped and (2) to immediately disallow production
of cosmetics and other nonmedicinal products.
PRC officials state that the production of milked bile already
exceeds the country­p;wide demand. A halt in the production
of shampoos, teas, throat lozenges, hemorrhoid creams, and other
dubious products containing bile will further widen the gap between
production and domestic consumption.
A critical self­p;evaluation of registered facilities will
undoubtedly uncover installations that fail to meet minimum standards.
It should also be relatively easy to determine the location of
nonsanctioned farms. These facilities, especially those that were
illegally set up, will be prime candidates for closure.
If PRC officials should undertake the above recommendations and
investigations, what would be the fate of surplus bears? The IFAW
first proposed that substandard farms be closed and the unemployed
bears relocated to sanctuaries. Although establishing sanctuaries
in natural settings could be difficult, it would not be impossible.
Ultimately the number of sanctuaries and bear inhabitants would
be limited only by China's resolve to tackle the out­p;of­p;control
bear farming industry.
Another important step is to promote the use of substitutes for
bear gall bladder. Just as patent medicines are more easily accepted
by consumers in China than in other Asian countries, it is probable
that herbal substitutes will be more readily adopted in China
A plethora of accepted, natural substitutes for bear gall bladder
exist (see section on substitutes). Bear farms have been promoted
by the government as a means of promoting Chinese medicine, generating
revenue, and conserving bears. With government support, large­p;scale
farming of herbal substitutes for bear gall and other endangered
species could become a profitable industry. More importantly,
the switch to a plant­p;based medicine industry would be totally
consistent with the promotion of Chinese medicine and the conservation
of bears in the wild.
A gradual, government­p;assisted transition from bear bile
to herbal drugs with the same medicinal qualities is the best
possible way to reduce the demand for bile and the number of bears
on farms. China should adopt the above recommendations and abandon
thoughts of international commercialization of artificially extracted
bear bile. NORTH KOREA AND SOUTH KOREA
Little is known about bear farms in North Korea (the Democratic
Peoples Republic of Korea [DPRK]). Some evidence does, however,
point to their long existence. While still in Beijing the authors
discovered Baekdusan Bear's Gall Tea at a Friendship store. The
tea is labeled with product details in Mandarin, Korean, and English.
It is supposedly made "mainly from bear's gall of Mt. Baekdusan
in North Korea." Mills and Servheen report that bear farms
have been operating in North Korea for more than twenty years.115
We first learned of North Korea's farms from a Taiwanese physician
in 1990. The doctor, who treats patients using a combination of
traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture, had been invited
to a North Korean facility, but the trip never materialized.
A sales clerk familiar with Baekdusan products said that they
are the product of a joint venture between the PRC and the DPRK.
Although the box proclaims that the bile is from North Korean
bears, the Friendship store clerk seemed confident that it was
taken from bears at a farm in Heilongjiang Province, China.
There is no information available on North Korean investment in
China, but in 1990 joint ventures with the ROK were on the rise
in Heilongjiang and Jilin, Chinese provinces currently known to
have farms.116 Further evidence exists in the form of bear bile
products packaged with accompanying Korean­p;language literature
from the Wang Qing Wild Animal Breeding Center in Jilin Province
and other farms.
South Korea's rapacious appetite for bear gall bladders is also
well known. This investigation revealed the steady demand for
bile products by ROK visitors. There is a strong chance that large
amounts of manufactured medicines and other products containing
milked bile are regularly shipped from China for sale on the South
In the last decade, newly wealthy Taiwan has emerged as a leading
consumer of endangered species products. By 1989 the country had
been dubbed the "greatest threat to the survival of Africa's
rhino."117 Caged tigers were paraded through the streets
on truck beds while loudspeakers blared the date, time, and location
of the big cats' impending slaughter.118 Taiwanese pirate whaling
vessels killed whales and shipped substantial quantities of meat
to Japan, laundering the contraband by way of transshipments through
the Philippines and South Korea.119 A turnaround industry for
ivory thrived; substantial amounts were imported (legally and
illegally), worked in­p;country, and sold domestically or re­p;exported.
Taiwanese drift net vessels frequently violated other nations'
exclusive economic zones to poach salmon and other fish and, on
occasion, capture penguins, seals, and other wildlife.120 Even
the giant tridacnid clam was not exempt from the feeding frenzy;
it was reportedly pushed to near extinction in Micronesia and
other parts of the Pacific by Taiwanese poachers.121
Taiwan's economic miracle also spurred profligate spending on
live exotic pets as status symbols and conversation pieces. During
the late 1980s, orangutans, gibbons, sun bears, clouded leopards,
macaws, "baby fish" (salamanders), chameleons, bats,
and other endangered species were imported by the hundreds. A
Taipei Zoo research assistant spent one year visiting owners of
registered endangered wildlife and recorded some 700 animals of
forty different species.122 The actual number of exotic fauna
on the island may be much higher than the official amount, as
most owners do not report such purchases.
Legislation prohibiting trade in endangered species came about
as a result of international criticism of tiger slaughters and
the Taipei Zoo's illegal purchase of the gorilla Baby Kong from
a notorious animal trader in 1987.123 With the goal of silencing
its detractors, on June 27, 1987, the government implemented a
ban on trade in all CITES Appendix I species.124
Two years later, on June 23,1989, Taiwan's Wildlife Conservation
Law (WCL) was enacted. The WCL is modeled after CITES and provides
three levels of protection: Schedule I lists "endangered
conservation wildlife"; Schedule II covers "rare and
valuable wildlife"; and Schedule III includes "other
wildlife requiring conservation measures."125 In 1989 the
WCL included all CITES Appendix I and most Appendix II fauna,
and all Appendix I and II bears.
Taiwan cannot accede to CITES, a United Nations' treaty, because
of its isolated political status; however, trade in CITES­p;listed
wildlife with nonsignatory states is allowed. (Technically Taiwan
is regarded by the United Nations as a part of China, which is
a party to CITES. In practice however, Taiwan functions more along
the lines of a nonparty state.) The WCL established the Council
of Agriculture (COA)126 as the de facto equivalent of a CITES
scientific authority. Import and export permits for protected
wildlife may be issued by the Ministry of Economics' Board of
In 1992 at the Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP8) of CITES
"other populations" of the brown bear not previously
listed under Appendix I or II were added to Appendix II.127 The
North American black bear, of which previously only Canada's population
was listed (under Appendix III) was added to Appendix II. With
these inclusions, all bear species are covered under Appendix
I or II.
In countries that strictly honor CITES legislation, this amendment
switched the burden of proof away from law enforcement agencies,
who previously had to prove a gall bladder was not from a North
American black bear to prosecute illegal trade, onto the trader,
who must now prove that a bear gall bladder is legal by providing
the appropriate CITES import or export permits upon request.
Unfortunately, Taiwan's WCL has yet to reflect this key revision
to the CITES appendices. A former Resources Conservation Division
clerk says COA's failure to add North America's black bear to
the WCL is not an oversight. A few months after COP8, the clerk
drafted a public notice to enact the change but the announcement
was never issued by his superiors. COA officials claim the change
has yet to be made because a number of other species need to be
added to the WCL as well, and the additions must be made simultaneously,
although there seems to be no legal basis for this claim. By not
listing Ursus americanus in the WCL, Taiwan is allowing trade
in gall bladders of Appendix I and II bears to continue in an
A 1993 incident underscores the legal difficulty in prosecuting
international commerce in bear gall bladders under the current
system. In a now famous incident, Bhutanese Princess Deki Wangchuck
was apprehended by customs officials at Chiang Kai­p;shek International
Airport when she attempted to enter the country with twenty­p;two
rhinoceros horns and nine bear gall bladders.128 Wangchuck was
found guilty of smuggling rhinoceros horn and received a ten­p;month
jail sentence. (She appealed the judgment and remains free on
bail while her appeal is being heard).129 The charge of trafficking
bear parts was dropped because of the legality, under the WCL,
of trade in Ursus americanus and the fact that Taiwan's wildlife
forensic experts were unable to attribute the gall bladders to
a specific species.130 Had Wangchuck brought only bear gall bladders
into the country, she would have totally avoided prosecution.
The Department of Health (DOH) regulates the use of animal parts
and derivatives in traditional Chinese medicine. Current DOH policy
allows the use of bear gall bladder from any species of bear,
provided the gall bladder is sold in prescription form.131
The DOH classifies endangered or threatened fauna according to
five categories as a way to regulate or ban their use. Category
I covers species listed in Appendix I of CITES, including rhinoceros,
tigers, and leopards; Category II applies to fauna with some species
or subspecies listed in CITES Appendix II; Category III is for
species listed only under Schedule I under Taiwan's WCL; Category
IV covers species governed only under Schedule II of the WCL;
Category V, to which bears are relegated, is used to classify
species that are listed in Appendix I or II of CITES but that
have yet to receive commensurate protection under Taiwan's WCL.
While the policy on the use of Category I fauna-a total ban-is
clear, Category II listed­p;fauna can be used with greater
latitude; animals in this classification may be proscribed, or
the use of non­p;Appendix I species may be allowed. Wildlife
falling into Category V are the most difficult for the DOH to
manage, especially if the DOH system calls for a total ban on
use. (Under the ROC Pharmaceutical Affairs Law, the DOH can only
ban the medicinal use of a product if it threatens human safety
or if its efficacy or quality are in question.) After Ursus americanus
is added to the WCL, bears will be placed in Category II.
Since May 1993 the DOH has been working to develop a policy concerning
the use of bear gall bladders. As a first step, nineteen locally
produced licensed medicines containing bear gall bladder have
been identified and will eventually be phased out. Few if any
of these medicines are believed to be produced today, so this
aspect of the trade is not considered a major problem and will
be easy to control.
Regarding retail distribution of bear gall bladders, two working
groups, a traditional pharmaceutical technical committee and a
traditional medicine advisory committee, will research the implications
of various possible management schemes to regulate trade. At present
the ultimate goal of DOH, once COA lists Ursus americanus under
the WCL, is to phase out the use of gall bladders from Appendix
I bears while managing trade in Appendix II species.
Taiwan's unspoken policy also has great impact on bear trade.
COA officials routinely dismiss the need to address the problem
of the bear parts trade by claiming that gall bladders sold and
displayed in Taiwan are from pigs, goats, or other animals. To
be sure, a certain number of gall bladders on the market are not
genuine: a 1991 Hong Kong study showed that nearly two­p;thirds
of eighty­p;one gall bladder samples purported to be from bears
were from other animals;132 and a 1994 DOH study in which thirty­p;five
bear gall bladders were analyzed revealed that only eighteen gall
bladders belonged to the family Ursidae.133
With only limited information available on the ratio of real to
false bear gall bladders on the market, assertions that all or
even the majority of bear gall bladders sold on Taiwan are false
are unfounded. The results of future clinical analyses of bear
gall bladders must be viewed with caution, as a portion of government
officials and members of the TCM community may not be above fixing
results to paint the desired picture of the trade.
In Taiwan, government efforts to address and correct social, economic,
and political problems are usually superficial and unsustained.
Pressing issues such as organized crime or corruption within law
enforcement agencies, and not­p;so­p;pressing issues, such
as jaywalking, are dealt with via "crackdowns"-hollow
crusades conducted over short periods of time. Typically, when
a problem is targeted, start and finish dates of a campaign are
widely reported, which gives ample warning for the targeted violators
to avoid detection. During a sweep, impressive but often misleading
statistics are tallied and liberal amounts of propaganda are reported
by an easily duped and controlled media. In the end, the targeted
problem is said to have been resolved and the government moves
on to the next issue.
The same method is used to address the trade in endangered species.
In response to criticism from abroad and the possibility of trade
sanctions by the United States, under provisions of the Pelly
Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act,134 and CITES, from
late 1992 through 1993, the COA mounted an unprecedented propaganda
campaign and organized a series of highly publicized sweeps of
traditional Chinese medicine pharmacies. The stated goal was to
identify illegal stocks of rhinoceros horn and tiger bone. In
reality the investigations were not meant to identify illicit
wildlife products or illegal traders, but were designed to prove
that Taiwan's role in the trade had been exaggerated. Consequently,
in two sweeps of 2,046 pharmacies there were just twelve violations.135
Results of other inspections have been similar.136 Sweeps are
now conducted covertly-with inspectors posing as buyers, a former
taboo-but this new approach has only slightly improved results.
In 1993 and early 1994, non­p;governmental organizations (NGOs)
conducted surveys disproving government claims that the trade
in tiger bone and rhinoceros horn was under control,137 and continued
scrutiny from the U.S. government and CITES forced Taiwan to take
steps to enhance its law enforcement effort. A potentially significant
action was the January 1994 creation of the Wildlife Protection
Unit (WPU), comprising six police officers. WPU commander, Lt.
Col. (Charles) Chang You­p;chang trained briefly in 1993 with
South Africa's police­p;run Endangered Species Protection Unit.
Chang realizes the need for a more comprehensive law enforcement
approach, particularly to identify importers and wholesalers of
contraband wildlife products.
Unfortunately, higher level officials feel statistics gathered
during pharmacy sweeps are the best way to lessen the length or
severity of U.S. trade sanctions under the Pelly Amendment. In
the aftermath of President Clinton's April announcement to impose
restrictions on ROC wildlife exports, the COA announced plans
for the largest sweep ever made of apothecaries.138 Unfortunately,
rather than undertaking investigations of substance, the WPU's
mandate to date seems to center around overseeing sweeps.
It is important to put government sweeps in proper perspective
to appreciate the sheer futility of the exercise. Over the course
of this investigation and during an early 1994 survey of the availability
of tiger bone conducted by Earthtrust Taiwan, several pharmacists
commented to investigators that government inspections were aimed
only at appeasing CITES and the U.S. government. They also remarked
that findings obtained during government sweeps or NGO surveys
are not indicative of trade levels. As long as the issue is sensitive,
pharmacists will simply refuse to sell contraband wildlife products
While this assessment of Taiwan's law enforcement effort does
not directly apply to trade in bear gall bladders, it does highlight
the attitude by officials at various levels that wildlife conservation
matters are unimportant. Issues are only tackled when absolutely
necessary, usually only when some form of punitive action is the
consequence of failure to address a problem. Even then, the trade
is addressed with the most narrow approach possible. For example,
illegal tiger bone trade openly flourished until the issue was
forced onto the government's agenda in November 1993, when tigers
were added to the Pelly Amendment petition. Previously only trade
in rhinoceros horn was addressed in the original petition.
One notable exception to an otherwise abysmal law enforcement
effort is the Ministry of Justice's Investigation Bureau (MJIB).
The bureau has made significant inroads into ferreting out drug
networks in recent years. The same expertise is now occasionally
applied to the endangered species trade.
A March 24, 1994, sting operation conducted by MJIB agents resulted
in the arrests of seven people, the seizure of more than one ton
of ivory, and the discovery of three carving factories.139 The
arrests, carried out at eight different locations, were accomplished
only after several months of investigations and the commitment
of a significant number of resources and personnel. Investigations
this year into illegal trade or smuggling of ivory were carried
out by the bureau in January, April, and June and netted worked
and raw tusks and several thousand name seal chops and other trinkets.
On August 9, 1994, MJIB agents and Kaohsiung National Police Administration
officers arrested two men who had smuggled twelve rhinoceros horns
(weighing 20 kilograms) into Taiwan from Malaysia.140
Graft and bribery are accepted business practices on Taiwan. Customs
officers routinely accept bribes to allow shipments of drugs,
guns, and other contraband into the country. A Taiwan customs
officer was caught trying to smuggle 1,247 ivory chops from Hong
Kong into Japan in 1990.141 More recently, in March 1993, three
customs agents were arrested for running a smuggling operation
that allowed taxable goods and government controlled items to
enter the country untaxed.142 The trio bilked an estimated US$3.1
million over a six­p;month period. A similar scam was discovered
at Chiang Kai­p;shek International Airport in August 1993.
When six inspectors were arrested for failure to tax liquor imports,
their colleagues protested the detentions by "intensifying
cargo shipment inspections" and "requesting the same
day of the week off," which left cargo sitting an extra day
at the airport due to a lack of inspectors.143
Most violations go unreported. Anecdotal information gathered
by the authors shows that violations involving drugs, firearms,
and wildlife products are probably the norm rather than the exception:
one central Taiwan customs inspector claims that hong bao, or
red envelopes containing cash bribes, are regularly given to inspectors
in his jurisdiction. To refuse the bribes, according to the officer,
would result in loss of employment or worse. This honest officer's
solution: the contents of the red envelopes are given to a local
charity and receipts are kept in the event he is ever charged
with taking a bribe.
Further evidence comes from a candidate for employment with the
Customs Bureau who was refused employment during a final interview
when he said he would not overlook contraband entering the country.
Complicity in the nation's police force is also widespread. An
increase in penalties for violations of the WCL is being debated
in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament. Senator Hsu Tian­p;tsai
and some local conservationists feel that corruption is so great
that increasing penalties will only make police wealthier.144
On this investigation, the author was assisted by two Taiwanese
volunteers from the Life Conservationists Association, a Taipei
NGO. The investigators entered pharmacies, attempting to fill
one of two similar prescriptions used to treat liver and gall
bladder cancer. In addition to bear gall bladder, the prescriptions
call for musk deer, pearl shavings, vanilla root, and other herbs.
In some cases prescriptions were not used and investigators merely
spoke with pharmacists about purchasing bear gall bladder.
This survey began in February 1994 and ran intermittently through
June 1994. Four factors affected the overall findings:
· During the survey period Taiwan's role in the rhinoceros
horn and tiger bone trade and the ultimate possibility of trade
sanctions under the Pelly Amendment were covered almost daily
by the Chinese press.
· In February another NGO initiated a similar survey to
determine rhinoceros horn and bear gall bladder availability
and met with COA officials to discuss their findings. COA officials
dutifully reported this meeting to the media, and several articles
appeared in the local press advising that foreign NGOs were investigating
the bear gall bladder trade.
· In 1994, government inspectors stepped up their investigation
of rhinoceros horn and tiger bone availability in local pharmacies
by using undercover techniques to identify illegal traders.
· The final factor is that on November 8, 1993, a second
Pelly petition, citing Taiwan and China for illegal trade in
Appendix I bears, leopards, and nonhuman primates, was filed
by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Earth Island
Institute (EII), and five other conservation organizations.145
Despite the fact that trade in bear gall bladder is legal in Taiwan,
these events served to put traditional pharmacists on guard. It
is likely that a large percentage of pharmacists interviewed who
denied possessing or trading in bear gall were lying.
The exchange rate used to compare the New Taiwan (NT) dollar to
the U.S. dollar amounts given in this report is: NT$26.50=US$1.00.
Customs statistics provide little information on the bear gall
bladder trade in Taiwan. From 1981 through 1985 only 25 kilograms
(possibly 33 kilograms) of bear gall bladder were legally imported
(see table 1); however, bear bone and tiger bone imports (listed
under one import/export category by the Inspectorate General of
Customs) were significant: from January 1981 through November
of 1987 (excluding 1986, for which statistics were not available),
11,291 kilograms of bones from the two species legally entered
the island (see table 2). The Taiwan market for tiger bone is
well documented,146 but little is known about the demand for bear
bones in traditional medicine, except that it is used to treat
rheumatism of the joints. Without knowing what percentage of bone
imports were from bears, it is impossible to estimate how many
bears or tigers would have been killed to amass this total.
Table 1. Import of Bear Gall Bladder Into Taiwan,
Year Country Import (kg) Value (NT)
1981 Canada 3 62
Singapore 4 89
1982 Canada ND 8*
Hong Kong 3 321
1983 Canada 3 58
1984 No imports
1985 Hong Kong 2 37
Source: Statistical Department, Inspectorate General of Customs, Taiwan.
ND = No data; NT = New Taiwan Dollar.
* probably a mistaken entry: the entry "8" under "value" should probably be under "import," leaving the monetary value unknown.
Table 2. Taiwan Export and Import of Bones,
Hu ku (Tigris Os) and Hsiung ku (Ursis Os)
Year Country Export (kg) Import (kg)
1981 Total NR 1841
Hong Kong NR 1600
Singapore NR 241
1982 Total 100 1900
Hong Kong NR 1100
South Korea 100 NR
Singapore NR 800
1983 Total NR 2710
Hong Kong NR 2710
1984 Total NR 2131
Hong Kong NR 950
Indonesia NR 100
Singapore NR 1012
Thailand NR 69
1985 Total NR 2579
Hong Kong NR 645
Malaysia NR 740
Singapore NR 1194
1986 Total No figures available
1987* Total 8 130
Grand Total 1981­p;1987+ 108 11,291
Source: Statistical Department, Inspectorate General of Customs, Taiwan.
NR = no report.
* 1987 figures for January through November only.
+ Recognizing the lack of data for 1986.
Many pharmacists describe bear gall bladder
as a TCM staple, and significant amounts have been imported to
Taiwan over the years. The above customs statistics indicate the
persistence of illegal bear gall bladder trade, even though legal
avenues for obtaining gall bladders-from the United States and
Some Taiwanese pharmacists travel abroad, usually to China, or
send trusted friends or relatives, to purchase bear gall bladders.
One central Taiwan shopkeeper claims she or a friend travels to
China to buy bear gall bladder directly from Chinese military
personnel who invariably have access to a "high­p;quality,
genuine product." Her friend had recently returned from a
trip to China with three whole bear gall bladders in her suitcase,
one of which the pharmacist purchased for NT$30,000 ($1,132).
Purchasing bear gall bladders in range states in this manner lessens
the chance of being sold false gall bladders and increases profit
by cutting out middlemen. Several pharmacists also mentioned purchasing
gall bladders from area distributors, who purchase their stock
Occasionally, bear gall bladders are offered directly to pharmacists
by traders from range states. While investigating the bear gall
bladder market in Taiwan in 1991, Mills and Servheen, both Anglo­p;Americans,
were asked if they had bear gall bladder for sale.147 During this
investigation, however, there was no mention of North Americans
or other foreign nationals selling bear gall bladder directly
Of forty­p;four pharmacies visited, twenty­p;seven either
possessed or could obtain bear gall bladder and were willing to
sell it either whole or in prescription form to investigators;
eleven said they did not have bear gall bladders in their possession;
another five possessed bear gall bladders but were not willing
to sell because of government pressure; and one stocked only farmed
bile crystals (see table 3).
In only seven instances were prices given per qian (3.75 grams),
fen (0.375 grams), or for whole gall bladders. Although trade
in bear gall bladders is legal, reluctance on the part of pharmacists
to discuss price can likely be attributed to fear of being accused
of illegal trade. On three occasions prices per fen (.375g) were
given as NT$300 ($11). Prices per qian (3.75g) were quoted at
NT$2,000 ($75), NT$2,800 ($106) and NT$3,000 ($113). One pharmacist
offered 3 qian at NT$1,500 ($57), but this price seems too low
for authentic bear gall bladder.
Sources of bear gall bladders are also a concern. Those interviewed
discussed country or continent of origin or wild versus farmed
bile. Only two geographic sources of bear gall bladder were mentioned
by pharmacists: China and the United States or North America.
Only one person, a physician, defended China's farms. "People
shouldn't even think about importing gall bladders from North
America," he told the authors in an open interview. He believes
it makes more sense to use milked bile because it is cheaper,
more profitable in the long run, and it "keeps bears alive."
Table 3. Bear Gall Bladder Availability in Taiwan
Format: Location, Possession, Price (U.S.$), and Origin on
Comments on second and following lines.
1) Kaohsiung Yes $755­p;1132 No origin
Prices for 3 gall bladders.
2) Kaohsiung Yes $377 per China
Viewed 3 gall bladders, packet containing snake and prescription
bear gall for liver cancer.
3) Kaohsiung No No price No origin
Did not have bear gall bladder. Claimed to be able to differentiate
real and fake bear gall bladder, "can buy in China but beware
4) Kaohsiung Yes 1 fen $11 China
Two jars in display window contained bear gall
1 qian $113 bladder slices.
$755 per prescription
5) Kaohsiung Yes No price No origin
Distributor is based in Hong Kong.
6) Kaohsiung Yes $755 per No origin
Had "kidney and gall bladder" pills @ $38 for a bottle
prescription of 80 capsules. Claimed that "in Taiwan, pig
ball bladder is passed off as bear gall bladder."
7) Kaohsiung No No price No origin
8) Kaohsiung Yes* $226 per No origin
* None on premises. Called supplier and could have prescription
delivered at buyer's request.
9) Kaohsiung Yes 1 fen $11 No origin
China's farmed bear gall bladder are "no good." Claimed
real bear gall bladder can cost as much as $3775 so owner could
only buy half at a time.
10) Kaohsiung Yes $377 per No origin
Needs to see patient to determine whether s/he prescription actually
needs bear gall bladder.
11) Kaohsiung Yes No price No origin
Willing to fill prescription. Claimed his bear gall bladder to
12) Kaohsiung No No price No origin
13) Kaohsiung Yes* No price No origin
* None on hand, but willing to sell. Claimed that "can have
medicine containing bear gall bladder tomorrow" and "bear
gall bladder is becoming harder to find."
14) Kaohsiung Yes* No price No origin
* Farmed bile crystals from a Hong Kong distributor for $11.
15) Kaohsiung Yes $302 per No origin
Willing to prepare prescription in front of investigator.
16) Kaohsiung Yes $377 per No origin
According to the owner, his bear gall bladder is
prescription "authentic. If price ischeaper it's probably
17) Kaohsiung Yes 1 qian $75, No origin
$755 per prescription
18) Kaohsiung No No price No origin
19) Kaohsiung Yes 1 qian $106, No origin
Farmed bile from Hong Kong at $94 per qian.
$755 per prescription
20) Kaohsiung Yes 3 qian $57, No origin Cheapest price noted during
$377 per prescription
21) Kaohsiung Yes 1 fen $11 China
Whole gall bladders on display in window.
22) Taizhong Yes No price China
Purchased whole gall bladder for $1132. A friend brought her three
gall bladders back from China in a suitcase. Often buys from Chinese
23) Taizhong No No price No origin
Used to sell.
24) Taizhong Yes $377 per No origin
25) Taizhong Yes No price China
Has in possession but not willing to sell because of "trouble."
26) Taizhong Yes No price No origin
Obtains gall bladder from many different places.
27) Taizhong No No price No origin
"Need to go to a larger pharmacy."
28) Taipei No No price No origin
"The government has banned to many 'high class' medicines-makes
29) Taipei Yes No price No origin
"Very effective medicine but not sold as frequently as in
the past." His galls purchased in various places.
30) Taipei Yes/No No price No origin
Initially refused to sell. Told investigator to try another shop.
After lengthy conversation, investigator felt he would be willing
31) Taipei No $302 per No origin
Told investigator to go to Di Hua Street (a traditional prescription
medicine wholesale district).
32) Taipei No No price No origin
Not willing to sell at present time. Treated investigator with
33) Taipei Yes/No No price No origin
Not willing to sell, afraid of "trouble." Gets gall
bladder from various places, Di Hua Street, or "from someone
who brings it into the country."
34) Taipei Yes* No price China
* "Not a good time to sell." Showed investigator whole
gall bladder and "powder."
35) Taipei Yes/No No price
No origin Initially not willing to sell. Complained about government
inspectors posing as buyers. Investigator left shop under the
impression that she could purchase bear gall bladder if really
intent on buying.
36) Taipei Yes No price No origin
37) Taipei No No price No origin
Refused to talk with investigator.
38) Taipei Yes $377 per No origin
39) Taipei Yes Depends on amount purchased U.S.
Showed investigator 7 gall bladders.
40) Taipei Yes Price given only at time of purchase No origin
Has whole gall bladder, powder and liquid.
41) Taipei Yes No price China, U.S.
Small amount in stock.
42) Taipei Yes No price China, North America
"Price is high now and amount in possession is small."
43) Taipei Yes/No No price No origin
Has in stock but is waiting until it is "safe again"
to resume selling.
44) Taipei No No price No origin
1 fen = 0.375 grams; 1 qian = 3.75 grams
Most of the pharmacists and physicians interviewed
feel that the quality of bile extracted from captive bears is
inferior. One physician believes strongly that because of the
difference in diet between captive and wild bears, bile from farmed
bears is inferior. "Asiatic black bears produce the best
gall bladders," he said, "but any gall obtained from
a wild bear is better than from a farmed animal."
One well­p;known physician, a representative of one of Taiwan's
traditional Chinese medicine societies, believes bile from China's
farmed bears is regularly injected into pig gall bladders and
shipped to Taiwan. Conversely, other physicians say bile crystals
from pigs and other animals, and even dirt or other matter, are
often injected into bear gall bladders to make them heavier.
All who commented on the subject believe that importers, wholesalers,
distributors, and pharmacists can readily differentiate between
real and false bear gall bladders. The end­p;use consumer,
however, usually cannot and is at the mercy of the pharmacist
he or she frequents.
Bears as Pets
The fad of keeping exotic, endangered species as pets peaked in
the late 1980s. By 1990, according to Taipei veterinarian Qi Wei­p;lian,
every ship arriving from Indonesia brought at least ten orangutans.148
Tigers and sun bears were also popular pets.149 In 1991 there
were reportedly 140 bears, 120 of which were sun bears, registered
as pets on Taiwan.150 A copy of the Kaohsiung City Reconstruction
and Planning Department records of registered bears shows that
in that southern city alone there are 106 bears registered (41
sun, 10 brown, 39 Asiatic black, 2 black, 12 bears, and 2 polar
bears). This list might include some animals kept in the Kaohsiung
Zoo. Personnel at the Taipei Zoo know of 60 sun bears and 35 Asiatic
black bears in private hands across the island.
Dr. Pei Jia­p;qi, a professor at the Pingtung Polytechnic Institute
in southern Taiwan, supervises a government sponsored shelter
for abandoned and confiscated animals. He currently has two sun
bears, one of which was turned over by its owner. The second animal,
less than one year old, was found wandering in a Taipei park,
apparently abandoned by its owner. Pei believes most of the privately
owned bears on Taiwan are 'captive­p;kept­p;solitary' (individually
kept) and that little if any captive breeding occurs.
In 1992 a Kaohsiung man kept more than twenty bears but would
not tell government inspectors why.151 In 1993 he donated the
bears and thirty to forty other animals to the Kaohsiung Zoo.
Other instances abound:
· Hikers reported to the authors that two Formosan
black bears (a subspecies of the Asiatic black bear, S. thibetanus
formosanus, of which between 200 and 1,000 survive in the wild)152
lived on the grounds of a temple on the outskirts of Taipei.
The temple also houses two tigers and a lion.
· Yeliu Ocean World, Taiwan's only oceanarium, holds three
sun bears. The animals are apparently registered, but how they
were obtained is in question. In cages alongside the bears are
twenty tigers. Yeliu's management is rumored to have illegally
bought, bred, and sold tigers and, as recently as 1990, purchased
dolphins captured in a dolphin drive.
· In February 1994, the authors happened across three
sun bears kept in a small cage on a main street in Kaohsiung.
· An April 1994 incident illustrated the government's
lax attitude toward conservation wildlife and highlighted the
demand for bear parts on the island. An article titled "Bear
dies, brings Chinese medicine business," which ran in the
local press, described the trials of an owner after his pet bear
died.153 The owner attempted to get a veterinarian to visit and
certify the cause of the animal's death, which is required by
law. He was unable to obtain the services of a veterinarian and
contacted a local government office for assistance. Once word
of the owner's plight got out, instead of a government response,
he was visited by traditional Chinese medicine traders who tried
to negotiate the corpse's release. When the owner still received
no reply from government representatives, he was forced to refrigerate
the carcass while awaiting a response.
One of the main leisure activities, at home or abroad, for Taiwan's
free­p;spending consumers is dining out. Exorbitantly priced
meals or banquets, often including rare or endangered species,
boost the status of the host and signify the importance of the
event. In one extreme instance a businessman in Taizhong, in central
Taiwan, hosted a banquet at which was served a twelve­p;course
meal, using the recipes of the imperial court of the Ching dynasty.
The ticket price: NT$500,000 ($18,868).154 The restaurant serving
up the banquet, the Pu Chung Pao, had previously been written
up in the local press for one of its premier dishes, tiger penis
Bear paw, which is considered one of the "eight most precious
delicacies in Chinese cuisine,"156 has become increasingly
difficult to obtain in Taiwan, thus it is frequently sought abroad
by Taiwan's burgeoning class of international travelers. More
than 15 percent of the island's population-3.36 million people-traveled
overseas in 1991,157 spending a staggering total of $5.7 billion
dollars.158 That year over 90 percent of outbound tourists visited
Asian destinations, including 1.2 million to China alone.
In China, Taiwanese tourism is now worth an estimated $600 million
per year.159 The appetite of ROC nationals on the mainland for
bear paw, which is, of course, technically illegal, and other
exotic fare is said to be second to none.160
Poor examples set by government officials encourage such expansive
consumption. In 1989, when KMT officials at the Asian Development
Bank in Beijing dined on bear paws, camel humps, and other wildlife
delicacies, the media were quick to report it.161
Television also increases demand by glamorizing the consumption
of endangered species. In 1993 on a popular prime­p;time Taiwanese
travel show, the authors viewed a segment showing a waiter proudly
displaying one of the restaurant's famous entrees, bear paws,
while a narrator gave a mouth­p;watering account of how the
paw was to be prepared and explained that it is one of the restaurant's
Of perhaps even greater concern is the demand for endangered species
dishes created by Taiwan's gourmands in Vietnam, as documented
by EII from 1990 to 1993 in a report titled The Black Market Wildlife
Trade in Vietnam.162 Although Europeans and nationals from various
Asian countries also purchase and consume wildlife products in
Vietnam, the report quotes Vietnamese merchants as saying that
Taiwanese visitors are "without exception" their best
customers. On one occasion EII investigators filmed a Taiwanese
buying two adult bears for a restaurant and interviewed a woman
grilling seven bear paws for a group of Taiwanese men who had
promised to pay $70 for each paw.
A Taiwanese NGO, sent to Vietnam by COA in April to investigate
EII's charges, reported that Taiwanese tourists indeed constituted
"the largest group of buyers of animal parts" and that
"Taiwanese [nationals] have boosted the slaughter of wildlife
in Vietnam.163 The Taiwan Tourism Bureau demanded that travel
agencies, who organize "wildlife eating tours" cease
doing so or face punishment. Travel agents anonymously responded
that "no travel agent would take the risk of losing customers"
by not offering wildlife dishes to their patrons.164
Taiwanese tourists also have a history of frequenting Thailand's
endangered species markets and restaurants. Cambodia is said to
host an increasing number of Taiwanese and other tourists from
the region. In a letter to the authors, Thailand­p;based conservationist
Leonie Vejjajiva states: "Kampuchea is hell for bears. The
paws are cut off by use of a guillotine, to serve to mostly...Korean,
Taiwanese and Chinese tourists."165
A March 1994 tragedy in which twenty­p;four Taiwanese tourists
were murdered on a pleasure boat cruise in China sent shock waves
through Taiwan, sparking a short­p;lived ban on tours to China.
The ban has since been lifted, but the incident had the unpredictable
effect of opening up Burma as a popular destination for Taiwanese
tourists. The situation in Burma, with regard to the consumption
of endangered species by Taiwanese or other foreign nationals,
is as of yet undocumented but probably similar to that of Vietnam
and other countries in the region.
Bear Gall Bladder in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine is based on the principle of homeostasis.
It has been described as "an integrated body of empirical
knowledge and experience developed in a similar way to that of
a person trying to detect the physical changes of a sealed black
box and to devise means to restore it to a 'normal' state."166
By observing a wide range of physical and biological changes in
humans, using a system of mutually opposing but interdependent
and interchanging points, a physician can determine the location,
nature, severity, and, in many cases, the cause of an illness.
The history of traditional Chinese medicine dates back to 2838
B.C., about 100 years after the dawn of Chinese civilization.167
One of the most famous Chinese herbals, Ben Cao Gang Mu, was written
by Li Shih­p;chen during the Ming dynasty (1590). In fifty­p;two
volumes, Li compiled a record of 1,518 varieties of previously
recorded drugs and introduced 374 new herbs.168 Of the 1,892 ingredients
listed in Ben Cao Gang Mu, animal parts make up less than ten
percent, the majority of which are insects.169
Medicinal uses for bear gall bladder were first noted in the seventh
century A.D. in the Materia Medica of Medicinal Properties.170
Medical applications for bear gall bladder were also described
in early Arabian and Indian herbals.171
The use of animal parts in Chinese medicine stems from the belief
that substances found in animal products are similar to those
found in our own bodies. It is believed that the potency of a
substance found in an animal­p;based drug will be many times
greater than that of a plant compound.172 Plants and animals used
in Chinese medicine are classified according to various properties:
four essences (cold, hot, warm, and cool); five flavors (pungent,
sweet, sour, bitter, and salty); and four directions of action
(ascending, descending, floating, and sinking). Bear gall bladder
is classified as bitter and cold. Bitter drugs dispel heat, dry
dampness, and purge the body, while cold drugs are effective in
reducing fever and inflammation, cooling the blood, and detoxifying
According to Ben Cao Gang Mu, bear gall bladder can eliminate
parasites, cool the heart and the liver, and brighten the eyes.
Historically, bear gall bladder has also been used to alleviate
spasms and delirium caused by extensive burns; reduce swelling
and pain in cases of trauma, sprains, fractures, or hemorrhoids;
ease pain in hot skin lesions; treat hepatitis and hepatic coma;173
and to treat hyperemia, nebula, jaundice, convulsions in infants,
and chronic diarrhea.174
A group of Hong Kong physicians list the "usual illnesses
associated with the use of bear parts in Chinese medicine"
as cancer of the lungs, liver, intestines, breasts, stomach, and
uterus; hemorrhoids; gallstones; vomiting; toxicities; broken
bones and similar injuries; knife wounds; and syphilis.175
Information compiled on clinical research analyzing the medicinal
properties of bear gall bladder indicate that it might be an effective
analgesic, anthelmintic, antidotal, antiphlogistic, and antipyretic
medicine; and it might possibly be effective in treating convulsions,
jaundice, ulcers, and poor vision.176
Physicians interviewed in Taiwan view bear gall bladder as effective
in treating the following ailments: internal injuries, high cholesterol
count, jaundice, high fever, liver, throat and nose infections,
parasites in the stomach, and bleeding concussion. Pharmacists
also prescribe the substance to help thin and purify the blood,
detoxify the body, stop seizures and reduce infection, and to
relieve swelling and tearing of the eyes.
In addition to traditional medicinal uses, on Taiwan, herbs and
animal parts are commonly used in pian fang (remedies), and tonics
not recognized as traditional Chinese medicine. The extent to
which bear gall bladder is used in pian fang is unknown.
Many physicians also commented that bear gall bladder is popular
as a cosmetic. Wu bao fen,177 a mixture of gall bladders from
five different animals, is frequently sold to improve the look
of the skin. According to several pharmacists, women are the chief
consumers of gall bladder for cosmetic benefits. In one case a
pharmacist in southern Taiwan encouraged the use of bear gall
bladder to give the eyes a glow. He cited the example of a nurse
for whom he regularly prepares a mixture of bear gall bladder
and pearls. After taking this concoction the nurse's eyesight
and the physical appearance of her eyes greatly improved.
The main components of bear bile salts are ursodeoxycholyl­p;taurine,
cholyl­p;taurine, and chenodeoxycholyl, and ursodeoxycholic
acid.178 Research shows that ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) is the
active ingredient in bear bile, and it is produced in significant
quantities only in bears.179
Natural and semisynthetic substitutes for bear gall bladder exist.
A recent report by the Association of Chinese Medicine and Philosophy
and the Earth Care Society lists fifty­p;four plant and one
animal (pig gall bladder) substitutes for bear gall bladder.180
A few pharmacists in Taiwan commented that, in higher doses, cow,
pig, and goat gall bladder are effectively substituted. Traditional
medical literature also indicates that cow gall bladder can be
substituted at higher doses.181
A Japanese company markets synthetic UDCA, which is derived from
cow bile, domestically and in the United States, Taiwan, and South
Korea.182 South Koreans alone reportedly consume 40 tons of synthetic
UDCA per year as a liver tonic and to prevent hangovers.183
If embraced by traditional medicine practitioners and consumers,
synthetic UDCA and the many readily available natural substitutes
could substantially curb demand for bear gall bladder. Although
many traditional pharmacists rebuff the West's cries for increased
use of substitutes for endangered species, one organization, the
Hong Kong­p; based Association of Chinese Medicine and Philosophy,
with members in Taiwan, Macao, Hong Kong, and China, has taken
on the herculean task of promoting herbal medicines and "combating
the misconception that only animals ingredients are the best supplements
and medicine" for human consumption.184
Substitutes should be vigorously promoted; the array of available
natural substances can effectively treat the wide range of illnesses
for which bear gall bladder is presently used. It is unrealistic,
however, to expect that a significant number of consumers and
dispensers in the major consumer nations who now subscribe to
the legitimate medicinal uses-as well as dubious remedies and
nonmedical uses-of bear gall bladder will easily abandon their
present beliefs and habits of consumption.
This reluctance is due mainly to two factors. First, substances
found in animals are quite similar to those found in our own bodies.
A given animal compound or drug is said to be much more potent
than that of a corresponding plant. For this reason, rhinoceros,
tiger, and bear parts are viewed as being far superior to Madagascar
periwinkle herb or rhubarb (both substitutes for bear gall bladder).
Second, the rarity of any species of fauna for which demand is
high, especially in Asia and more especially when the species
has or is perceived to have medicinal or aphrodisiac qualities,
sets in motion a perverse speculative mentality. Importers and
wholesalers purchase as much of the item as possible and, in some
cases, consumers purchase the species because of its rarity and
high price-the high price being an added assurance that the gall
bladder, horn, or bone is the best possible drug available. In
some cases, end consumers also purchase endangered species medicines
as a show of affluence.
A third reason that substitutes have not been and probably will
not be more readily adopted, at least in the near future, is that
governments in consumer nations have done virtually nothing to
promote the use of alternatives to endangered species. In Taiwan,
rather than address the issue at all, the government has provided
loopholes to allow trade in all bears; the subject of substitutes
has not even been broached. In China, the industrialization of
bears threatens to increase demand for bear bile in traditional
applications, create new markets for nontraditional applications,
and further the Chinese view that there is no substitute for bear
gall bladder. Further, the promotion of farmed bile may actually
increase demand for wild bear gall bladder.
Discussion and Recommendations
When this study was initiated in February 1994, twenty­p;one
out of twenty­p;six pharmacists were willing to sell bear gall
bladder to the author. As suspicions of market surveys were reported
in the local press during the latter part of this investigation
a significant drop­p;off in availability occurred: of eighteen
apothecaries surveyed from March to June, only six were willing
to sell bear gall bladder. Bear gall bladder is probably available
in a much higher percentage of pharmacies than reflected in this
survey. A 1991 study reported it available in thirty of thirty­p;four
pharmacies in Taipei-in substantial amounts in some instances.185
A survey conducted by the EIA in early 1994 found that thirty­p;five
of forty shopkeepers willing to sell bear gall bladder.186 To
date, only one government study has been carried out. In early
1994 Taiwan's Department of Health conducted an investigation
of sixty­p; four traditional pharmacies and found that exactly
half of pharmacists questioned were willing to sell what they
purported to be bear gall bladder.187
Many pharmacists regard bear gall bladder as a medicinal staple,
although some report that demand has dropped off over the past
few years because of the high price bear gall bladder now commands.
One pharmacist bluntly stated that any traditional pharmacist
who claims not to stock bear gall bladder is lying. Another summed
up the prevailing attitude about the government's highly publicized
scrutiny of traditional medicine shops by saying he would wait
until it was safe before selling bear gall bladder again. Two
physicians familiar with the trade also believe that virtually
every pharmacy on the island possesses one to two gall bladders
and probably consume that much each year. Assuming that the average
weight of a bear gall bladder is 114 grams,188 this would mean
that one pharmacy dispenses between 114 and 228 grams of bear
gall bladder annually.
A broader perspective is problematic, although not impossible
to achieve. Estimated conservatively, at least three­p;fourths
of the traditional pharmacies on Taiwan stock bear gall bladder.
The precise annual island­p;wide consumption of bear gall bladder
on Taiwan is unknown. There are 9,244 registered pharmacies across
the island,189 and an unknown number of unregistered apothecaries,
probably numbering well under 1,000, also dispense traditional
medicine. If the estimated annual consumption of one to two gall
bladders per pharmacy is accurate, roughly 9,000 to 18,000 gall
bladders may be dispensed annually by Taiwan's registered pharmacies.
Obviously, these figures decrease when the same simple consumption
estimate of one to two gall bladders per year is multiplied by
the conservative estimate of three­p;fourths of registered
pharmacies possessing and prescribing bear gall bladder. Although
these estimates are extremely crude, an annual island­p;wide
consumption of as much as 9,000 bear gall bladders is not implausible.
The belief in the efficacy of bear gall bladder is the main reason
for the substance's popularity with the traditional medicine community.
Closely tied to this, however, is the financial incentive to trade,
especially for wholesalers and importers. The substance commands
incredibly high prices: sold retail, bear gall bladder fetches
NT800,000 per kilogram ($30,118). When compared with the wholesale
price documented in China ($4,032 per kilogram), this represents
a seven­p; fold mark­p;up.
Unfortunately, due to the sensitivity of the subject, the wholesale
price for bear gall bladder on Taiwan remained a trade secret.
One pharmacist told the author that she had recently purchased
a whole gall bladder for NT$30,000 ($1,132) from a friend who
had purchased it in China. Assuming the gall bladder is of average
weight (114 grams), the per gram price would be $10, while a kilogram
would sell for roughly $10,000. This might give an indication
of the wholesale price for bear gall bladder on Taiwan.
The average retail price for bear gall bladder on Taiwan today
(3.75 grams for $113) corresponds roughly with the highest retail
price, $30 per gram, recorded in 1991. (Mills and Servheen noted
prices ranging from $8 to $30 per gram.)190 Thus, over the past
three years the price of bear gall bladder has risen somewhat.
Today's prices on Taiwan do not approach those noted in South
Korea in 1990 and 1991, when what was thought to be authentic
bear gall bladder sold for between $22 to $210 per gram.191
The market for bear gall bladder on Taiwan is a cause for great
concern. Along with South Korea, Taiwan seems to be the main force
driving the demand for bear gall bladders in China. Taiwan may
in fact rival South Korea in terms of consumption. Mills and Servheen,
authors of the only comprehensive report to date covering the
trade in Asia, similarly suspect that Taiwan may be on a par with
Over the past two years Taiwan has been scrutinized by CITES,
the U.S. government, and the international community concerning
the endangered species trade. Rather than heed advice to address
the endangered species trade in earnest, COA officials have mounted
a disgraceful propaganda campaign and resorted to various tactics
to avoid responsibility for its own inaction. On the domestic
front, representatives have cited prejudice and leveled other
false accusations to rally the public against meddling foreign
conservationists. International efforts include goodwill delegations
sent abroad to minister to detractors and advertisements in the
New York Times and other widely­p;distributed media touting
Taiwan's conservation efforts.
All of this has done little for law enforcement. In spite of government
claims to the contrary, enforcement has been greatly hindered
by a policy that targets only traditional Chinese medicine dispensers
of rhinoceros horn and tiger bone and uses the media to warn of
heightened law enforcement efforts before and during the actual
If the trade in bear gall bladder and other endangered species
is to be earnestly addressed on Taiwan, rhetoric must be replaced
by sound policy and a comprehensive approach to law enforcement.
The government of Taiwan should take the following actions:
· Ursus americanus must be added to the WCL to close
the loophole that presently prohibits prosecution for illegal
importation of bear gall bladder. The North American black bear
(Ursus americanus) was placed on Appendix II of CITES at COP8
in 1992, but Taiwanese legislation has yet to reflect this change.
A long­p;term policy concerning trade in bear gall bladder
must also be devised and implemented. The use of Appendix I bear
species in medicine, which is still legal in Taiwan, must be
Whether it is with the goal of phasing out trade over a several­p;
year grace period or of seeking options to allow legal trade,
a program for registering bears or bear parts must be initiated.
Once COA places the North American black bear on Taiwan's WCL,
the Department of Health, representatives from various traditional
Chinese medicine societies, and local Taiwanese NGOs should all
be involved in mapping out this policy.
· Taiwan has the resources to ferret out the middlemen,
importers, wholesalers, and stockpilers at the top of the endangered
species trade pyramid. Two law enforcement vehicles already exist:
the MJIB and the WPU. If a concerted, long­p;term law enforcement
program is implemented, events like the March 24, 1994, MJIB
sweep can become the norm instead of the exception. Unfortunately,
convincing policymakers of the importance of attacking the endangered
species trade at higher levels-instead of focusing on the traditional
Chinese medicine community-will not be easy.
The MJIB is sometimes not privy to information provided to the
WPU from abroad. This is despite the fact that the MJIB is the
most qualified agency to address international trade and related
internal trade. It is extremely important that the MJIB receive
information directly from South Africa's Endangered Species Protection
Unit and other international trade monitoring and enforcement
· Taiwan's wildlife forensics experts can now differentiate
bear gall bladders from those of other species of animals. However,
the capability to distinguish between gall bladders of different
bear species does not yet exist on the island. Until the North
American black bear is added to Taiwan's WCL, laboratory analysis
is the only hope for prosecuting illegal trade in bear parts.
Information exchange with the United States and other countries
should greatly improve Taiwan's ability to identify bear gall
bladder by species.
· To its credit, the DOH held four meetings around the
island in April 1994, explaining the ban on rhinoceros horn and
tiger bone, and discussing substitutes for these products.193
The department is also researching substitute plants and animal
parts for rhinoceros horn, tiger bone, and bear gall bladder.
The COA, the DOH, and other agencies should build on this effort
and create a detailed plan to promote herbal alternatives for
bear gall bladder and other endangered species products used
in traditional pharmacopoeia. These agencies should create and
distribute literature promoting the use and proven medical efficacy
of alternatives to endangered species. More workshops should
be conducted to introduce alternative medicines, explain policy,
and forge a better relationship between traditional medicine
practitioners and government. (Many pharmacists resent COA officials
because they feel they have been unfairly singled out as the
main culprits in the rhinoceros horn and tiger bone trade-a legitimate
complaint on their part.) Medical research should also be funded
by the government to document the efficacy of alternative medicines.
· At the regional level, Taiwan should seek increased
cooperation and expertise in the areas of law enforcement, the
creation and implementation of a policy concerning trade in bear
gall bladder, and the exchange of knowledge concerning substitutes
for bear gall bladder and other endangered species.
for more information, contact:
Windward Environmental Center
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Wildlife Initiative" Project Page
1118 Maunawili Road
Kailua, HI 96734 USA