Archive for the ‘Traditional Chinese medicine’ Tag

“Moon bears don’t feel pain” and other moon bear myths   Leave a comment

From:  AnimalsAsia

Januay 27, 2015 by Sarah Dempsey

Bear Manager Sarah Dempsey has spent over two years caring for moon bears at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre – making her perfectly placed to put the record straight about these wonderful, charismatic animals.

1/ There aren’t bears in Vietnam, are there?

Yes, bears are native to Vietnam! One of the first things I hear when I say I work with bears at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre is: “I didn’t know there were bears in Vietnam?” Well, yes there are!

Asiatic black bears are native to Vietnam and throughout southern Asia from Pakistan to the islands of Japan. There are also other species of bears native to Asia and these include the smallest of the bear species, also native to Vietnam, sun bears (of which we have eight at our Vietnam Sanctuary).

Other bears in Asia include sloth bears and probably the most famous and easily recognisable, giant pandas.


Misty (latterly Nora JamJack) and Rain playing at VBRC, 2012

2/ So Asiatic black bears are the same as North American black bears right?

Wrong! Asiatic black bears and American black bears are close relatives – closer than the six other living bear species – though there are notable differences. Similar in size to the American black bears, their fur is longer giving them a shaggier appearance often characterised by the long “ruff’ which most Asiatic black bears have around the neck.

In northern parts of their range, Asiatic black bears tend to hibernate, but in the southern limits of their range they’re less likely to. Meanwhile American black bears hibernate throughout the extent of their range and lack the characteristic moon–shaped crescent of pale yellow fur on their chest. And the nicest thing of all, unlike the smaller ears of American black bears, Asiatic black bears have the ears that have earned them the nickname of Mickey Mouse bears!

Thao - a glorious handsome moon bear at VBRC

3/ All bears are carnivores right? 

Wrong! Like many other bear species, moon bears belong to the order Carnivora but are omnivores. Greenery ­– or browse – from trees makes up the bulk of their wild diet along with fruits and available vegetables such as sweet potato and corn. In smaller amounts they also enjoy insects, small mammals, fish and reptiles. They are incredibly opportunistic foragers, so food which humans have left behind makes its way in there too!

At Animals Asia we try to replicate (the healthier parts) of a wild diet by providing the bears with daily native browse such as bamboo, jack fruit and ficus, fruits, vegetables and a small amount of dry dog food. As we keep them in semi-wild enclosures there is often the opportunity to forage for insects too, particularly termites, ants and earthworms. In the wild their diet also adheres to seasonal trends so we replicate this to the best of our ability by offering seasonal soft fruits in summer and chestnuts in winter.

One of their absolute favorite foods both in the wild and here is honey, very much like the most famous bear of all! Though as this is a rarer and highly prized treat for wild bears, we also only use honey as an occasional high-ranking reward.

Mema eating browse

4/ Bears are highly aggressive and therefore difficult to work with

Although Asiatic black bears have some notoriety for being aggressive when they come into contact with people in the wild (mainly if someone accidentally gives them a fright, or comes between a mother and cubs) this is actually a benefit in countries where they are frequently poached to be sold into the bear bile trade, and is far from true if captive bears are managed appropriately.

When we rescue bears and bring them to our centres they will eventually be integrated into larger groups in bear houses that enjoy the benefits of large semi-wild enclosures. We use positive reinforcement to allow us to manage them easily in this type of setting.

This is the process of increasing the chance of a behavior recurring by rewarding it. We use small pieces of fruit as rewards for bears when we need to move them between dens and in or out of the enclosures.

We do the same when we need to see a bear close up for a quick health inspection or when a problem is reported, and also to weigh our bears on a regular basis. We find that when working with bears this way and always providing them with choice, we see calm bears that seem to enjoy interacting with staff and some love weigh days so much we struggle to get them to go back out when we’ve finished!

Thomas, Taz and Georges  with a swing 7

5/ Bears don’t feel pain, right?

Very wrong! In February 2013, the China Daily quoted the China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as saying, “The process of extracting bear bile was as easy, natural and painless as turning on a tap. After the operation was done, bears went out to play happily.” This is – as you can imagine – absolutely incorrect. Bile is extracted using various painful, invasive techniques, all of which cause massive infection.

The pain bears on farms are clearly suffering from is often characterised not only by their physical condition but also by self-mutilation, noise, aggression, stereotypic behaviours (repetitive behaviours which serve no purpose but are commonly thought of as a coping mechanism) and in some animals complete apathy, all of which can be commonly seen in bears on bile farms.

A bile extraction site on a moon bear




Will the Rhino survive?   3 comments

From:  Frank Versteegh

Dec. 23, 2014

Will the Rhino surive?

A slain black rhino mom and her orphan calf.


Will the Rhino survive us?

This weekend I spent a few days in the lowfeld near Phalaborwa.

As many other National parks in South Africa, the Kruger is also suffering from poaching.
Rhino poaching in specific.
When I entered the gate the rangers ask you two questions. Do you have alcohol? Do you have guns? They check the car booth but any criminal will be able to smuggle in fire arms. This way of checking for guns is definitely not effective.

I did not see a Rhino. During the 400 km’s through the Kruger National park I did not see one!
Only in the Kruger park in 2013 300 Rhinos have been shot for their horn.

IMG_6674 - Version 2

24/7 rangers guards near the Rhino’s Ntombi and Tabo in Thula Thula.


Organized criminals use all means to kill this animal.  Often with help (information) from locals. And as some people say, the horns sometimes leave the country in diplomatic mail. Poaching Rhino’s is big business. The horn is more valuable per ounce than gold. China and Vietnam are the biggest markets for Rhino horn as they believe the horn is an afrodisiac.

Rangers do anything to protect these animals but it is WAR. A full scale war between organised criminals with helicopters and rangers who try to defend the Rhino with their lives.

In 2014 already 40 people have been killed in the war against poaching.

Rhino Relocation

Sedated rhino airlifted.

How to protect?

Some private game parks have 24/7 guards following the Rhino in order to try to prevent these creatures from going extinct.

Others inject the horn with poison in order to make it useless for the consumers in the far-east.

Some nature conservationists believe in re-location of the Rhino to remote areas where they are safe. Others think concentrating Rhinos is helping the poachers.

In some game reserves the Rhino horn is injected with a chip, so that the poached horn can be traced by satellites.

Rhino poster 2 _ draw horn

Save our Rhino campaign poster.


A marketing campaign in China and Vietnam is also considered by some organizations. However , huge budgets are needed for campaigns like that.
At the turn of the 19th century there were more than 1.000.000 (million) Rhino’s.
In 2007 1 Rhino was poached every month.
As you can see at the attached pics the numbers of poached Rhino went up year by year.
In 2013 89 (Eighty nine) Rhino’s were poached each month.
When poaching continues in this rate, in my life time, we will not be able to see this creature anymore.

We, humans kill one of the last dinosaurs. Is there any hope for the Rhino?


Poaching copy

Poachers arrests

Ten good reasons to save rhinos

  1. Rhinos are critically endangered
    At the turn of the 19th century, there were approximately one million rhinos. In 1970, there were around 70,000. Today, there are only around 28,000 rhinos surviving in the wild.Three of the five species of rhino are “Critically Endangered” as defined by theIUCN (World Conservation Union). A taxon is classified as critically endangered when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of a range of pre-determined criteria. It is therefore considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. The Southern subspecies of the white rhino is classified by theIUCN in the lesser category of being “Near Threatened”; and the Greater one-horned rhino is classified as “Vulnerable”; even this is considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.In 2014, some of us are lucky enough to be able to travel to Africa and Asia to see them in the wild. In 2024, when our children have grown up, will they still be able to see wild rhinos?
  2. Rhinos have been around for 40 million years
    Rhinos have been an important part of a wide range of ecosystems for millions of years; we must not let them join the dodo in extinction.
  3. Humans have caused the drastic decline in numbers
    Poachers kill rhinos for the price they can get for the horns (used for traditional Chinese medicine, for high-status gifts in Vietnam and for quack cures invented by criminal syndicates to drive up demand); land encroachment, illegal logging and pollution are destroying their habitat; and political conflicts adversely affect conservation programmes.
  4. Rhinos are an umbrella species
    When protecting and managing a rhino population, rangers and scientists take in account all the other species interacting with rhinos and those sharing the same habitat. When rhinos are protected, many other species are too; not only mammals but also birds, reptiles, fish and insects as well as plants.
  5. Rhinos are charismatic mega-herbivores!
    By focusing on a well-known animal such as a rhino (or, to use the jargon, a charismatic mega-herbivore), we can raise more money and consequently support more conservation programmes benefiting animal and plant species sharing their habitat.
  6. Rhinos attract visitors and tourists
    Rhinos are the second-biggest living land mammals after the elephants. Together with lion, giraffe, chimpanzee and polar bear, the rhino is one of the most popular species with zoo visitors. In the wild, rhinos attract tourists who bring money to national parks and local communities. They are one of the “Big Five”, along with lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo.
  7. In situ conservation programmes need our help
    Protecting and managing a rhino population is a real challenge that costs energy and money. Rhino-range countries need our financial support, and benefit from shared expertise and exchange of ideas.
  8. Money funds effective conservation programmes that save rhinos
    We know that conservation efforts save species. The Southern white rhino would not exist today if it were not for the work of a few determined people, who brought together the 200 or so individuals surviving, for a managed breeding and re-introduction programme. Today, there are some 20,405 (as at 31 Dec. 2012) Southern white rhinos.With more money, we can support more programmes, and not just save rhino populations, but increase numbers and develop populations. The Northern white rhino subspecies may just have become extinct, but it is not too late to save the rest.
  9. Many people don’t know that rhinos are critically endangered
    Not just that, but how many people know that rhinos also live in Asia? Or that two species have just one horn? Or that the horn is not used as an aphrodisiac? We have even heard some people say that they are carnivores!
    If people do not know about these amazing animals and the problems they are facing, how can we expect them to want to do something to help save rhinos?
  10. We all have an opportunity to get involved!
    You can help us raise awareness of the plight of the rhino! The more we do all together, the more people will learn about rhinos and the more field projects we will be able to support. There are lots of fundraising ideas scattered in the ‘Support us’ section, as well as ways to donate directly to Save the Rhino.

IMG_6696 - Version 2

Ntombi and Tabo, two orphins in Thula Thula, now 5 years old.






From:  Our Hen House – Change the World for Animals

By Visiting Animal — December 16, 2014

Jill in 1993

Animals Asia founder and CEO Jill Robinson (as heard on the Our Hen House podcast – Episode #199) first witnessed the cruelty of bear bile farming in 1993. Since then, she has worked tirelessly to end the industry. Animals Asia’s “Healing without Harm” program continues to collaborate with traditional medicine practitioners to end the demand for bear bile. Today on Our Hen House, Jill shares with us her experience with traditional medicine practitioners who also want to end the cruelty. 


My Wildest Dreams Come True: Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctors Say No to Cruelty

by Dr. Jill Robinson

Only in my wildest dreams did I think I would witness traditional Chinese medicine doctors burning bear bile in the streets of Chengdu. But that is exactly what happened in 2010 when Animals Asia began our Healing without Harm campaign. At that time, a small but determined group of Chinese doctors decided they wanted to finally speak out against the practice of bear bile farming, so these ambassadors voted with their businesses and their profits, and agreed to never sell or prescribe bear bile again. Four chains of pharmacies, comprising 33 shops, came on board during that monumental year. Movingly, groups of students also joined in by campaigning against the industry. Launching banner exhibitions in their universities, these passionate students publicly voiced their opposition to the farming of bears for the extraction of their bile. It appeared as though things were beginning to change for these majestic bears who stole my heart and set me on my life’s mission, so many years ago.

Photo Courtesy Animals Asia

Bear bile farming is not a traditional practice. In fact, it began in China in the early 1980s as a “solution” to the problem of endangered moon bears being killed in the wild for their gallbladders. Tragically, this “solution” was a horrifying one, resulting in thousands of bears being caged – many hunted from the wild – and surgically mutilated with crude metal or latex catheters inserted into their abdomens and gallbladders. Later, a new, so-called “humane” method of bile extraction was sanctioned by the authorities: A gaping hole was cut into the bear’s abdomen and gallbladder, allowing bile to drip out of a wound that never healed.

In addition to these brutalities, bears on bile farms are often subjected to cruel and painful procedures to eliminate any possibility that they can fight back. Their teeth are cut back to gum level. Their paw tips are hacked away to make them less dangerous. And aside from the mutilations imposed upon them, many bears self-mutilate by constantly banging or rubbing their heads against cage bars.

Although there has been some recognition that these practices are wrong, there is no easy fix. Bear farming is now actually illegal in Vietnam, but, nevertheless, the practice continues. In fact, there remain some 2,000 bears left on farms. Many still have their bile illegally extracted after being subjected to a crude anesthesia using illegal drugs. The semi-conscious bears are then jabbed with a four-inch needle until the bile is found. It is drawn from the bodies via a mechanical pump.

Photo by Peter Yuen

Animals Asia has rescued over 500 bears from this industry. We have been instrumental in the development ofsanctuaries in China and Vietnam – and we are currently facilitating theongoing conversion of transitioning a bear farm to a sanctuary in Nanning, China. This latest rescue followed a brave bear farmer’s very public assertion that the industry is both “cruel and hopeless.”

Fundamental to this rescue – and to our ongoing evidence of how bear bile farming exploits and kills members of endangered species of bears – is our work with the traditional medicine community. One of our most successful campaigns is Healing without Harm, a campaign collaborating with practitioners of traditional medicine, independent pharmacists, and pharmacy chains. The campaign also engages collaborations with pathologists and liver specialists in China and Vietnam to gather evidence on the implications for human health of consuming contaminated bile from diseased farm bears.

As the Council Member of the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies Herbal Committee, I have been fortunate to have met many traditional medicine doctors who have no compunction in emphasizing that bear bile has no place in their discipline today. One such practitioner, Lixin Huang, who is Chairman of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, goes so far as to say, “We ask bear farmers not to use the excuse of traditional medicine as a reason for farming bears, because we do not need bear bile to save patients’ lives.” This is a bold statement, considering that bear bile has been used for thousands of years in Asian pharmacopeia.

HWH practitioner Dr Gao Yimin, a TCM practitioner for more than 50 years​​​​, alongside  Jill

As these practitioners point out, bear bile is simply not needed. In traditional medicine, bear bile’s function is easily replaced by herbs. That is why Animals Asia’s Healing without Harm campaign is making such incredible strides. A press conference this September saw a remarkable 1,945 traditional Chinese medicine shops and pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals joining our efforts. They effectively boycotted bile products, and in doing so, highlighted practitioners’ respect of – and duty to protect – China’s bears. The comments made at that press conference showed the enormous support within the traditional medicine community. In the words of Sun Weidong, the Director of the Changsha Food and Drug Administration:

To take other animals lives is like taking our own lives and, on behalf of Changsha FDA, I pay my respect to all the pharmaceutical industries who are respecting life, caring for animals, refusing bear bile products, and saying no to animal cruelty. To regulate animal medicine and promote the continued development of medicine and ecology, we need to research synthetic alternatives of animal medicines, and do our best to protect animals.

Photo by Peter Yuen

Similarly, the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Association has, along with Animals Asia, produced a booklet for their members highlighting the 32 herbal alternatives to bear bile, and have pledged to see bear bile usage reduced to less than five per cent by the end of 2016. Hopefully, this escalating support will not only help the bears suffering on farms, but will aid those in the wild, too. After all, the most important underlying principle behind Chinese medicine is to take the easy, avoid the difficult, and “be compatible with nature.” These are ideas that anyone who cares about animals can stand behind. Whether fighting for animal rights, or for the conservation of endangered species – or for the preservation and development of traditional Chinese medicine – we each can find common ground. Even the bear farmers themselves increasingly appear trapped in an industry that they’d love to escape.

To the bears in those tiny cages, the benefits of Healing without Harm are obvious. But, with a common vision, this campaign should actually serve all parties, and our challenge and mission is to achieve that. Only then can bear bile farming finally be a nightmare of the past.

Perhaps my dreams are not so wild after all.



Animals Asia founder and CEO Dr. Jill Robinson arrived in Hong Kong in 1985 and spent 12 years working in Asia as a consultant for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Repeatedly faced with scenes of widespread animal cruelty, Jill founded “Dr. Dog” in Hong Kong in 1991 – the first animal-therapy program in Asia. In 1993, a visit to a bear farm in southern China changed her life forever. Discovering the plight of endangered Asiatic black bears (also known as moon bears), Jill embarked on a journey to end the practice of bear farming once and for all. In 1998, she founded Animals Asia, an organization that is devoted to ending the barbaric practice of bear bile farming and improving the welfare of animals in China and Vietnam by promoting compassion and respect for all animals, and working to bring about long-term change. Animals Asia began as a small group working out of Jill’s front room. She has since built the organization into a respected international NGO with over 300 staff members, an annual turnover of more than $9 million, and award-winning bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam. Animals Asia is headquartered in Hong Kong, with offices in Australia, China, Germany, Italy, the U.K., the U.S., and Vietnam.




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