BEIJING, HONG KONG, SHANGHAI––China cares about bears.
That was clear from nationwide outrage erupting in February 2002 after a 21-year-old engineering student poured sulfuric acid and caustic soda over five bears at the Beijing Zoo to see if bears are really stupid.
International Fund for Animal Welfare representative Zhang Li offered help to the zoo in treating the bears, who repeatedly all suffered vision loss, mouth injuries, and badly burned paws. Zhang Li also appealed for a national law on animal welfare. An existing law protecting wildlife may not apply to zoo animals.
Underscoring the need to protect captive animals, an ex-Quingdao Zoo keeper named only Wang was in early March charged with poisoning two Malaysian sun bears and five elk in September and October 2001, and with attempting to poison a leopard.
The Shanghai Evening Post reported that Wang was demoted from keeper to cleaner after he broke a leg leaping down a flight of stairs while blind drunk, trying to escape arrest for being caught with a prostitute.
The Beijing and Quingdao cases prompted the Shanghai Zoo to replace signs discussing the dangers and uses of wildlife with signs giving scientific information. “We hope that more and more visitors will love and cherish animals in the future,” a spokesperson named Tu told Agence France-Press.
The warmth of Chinese feeling for the injured and killed zoo bears was at odds with the horrific mistreatment of bile farm bears shown to the world during the March 16 Genesis Awards presentations by the Ark Trust. The bears teeth are typically sawed short, their claws are removed, and they are kept in close confinement with metal shunts thrust into their stomachs to hold the bile tubes.
Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson won Genesis honors for rescuing 65 bears from 30 defunct bile farms so far, with a contract in place to take 500 more bears during the next five years as Sichuan Province closes more bile farms. Across China, 6,991 bears remain on bile farms, says Robinson, who hopes to rescue bears from other provinces as the capacity of the Animals Asia Foundation for keeping bears in sanctuaries increases. The program is limited mainly by lack of funding. Robinson started with seed money and a small sanctuary built by IFAW, for whom she was formerly an Asian representative, but the bear rescue program is expected to achieve financial independence.
Opinion research commissioned by IFAW in 1999 found that 88.5% of the residents of Beijing and Shanghai believe tapping bears bellies to extract bile is unacceptably cruel.
Yet even as Chinese demand for bear bile declines, export demand is reportedly rising. The Animal Concerns, Research, and Education Society of Singapore announced in December 2001 that 75% of the Chinese medicine shops in Singapore sell bear bile products.
The Japan Wildlife Conservation Society reported in February 2002 that a two-year survey of 128 Chinese medicine shops found that 80% illegally sell bear gall bladders. “About 60% come from wild bears killed in Nepal, Canada, and Russia, and the balance from captive bears in China,” JWCS secretary general Masayuki Sakamoto said.
Bear galls also come illegally from the U.S. Maryland realtor Dong Jim Kim, 64, was to be sentenced on March 26 for her part in a bear gall export scheme allegedly organized by Hyong Tau Mun, 80, of McLean, Virginia. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Korean Army during the Korean War, and then a Korean cabinet member, Hyong Tae Mun and his wife Chun Ja Son were jointly fined $6,025 and put on probation for six months in December 2001.
Demand for bear galls may be stimulated by publicity given to claims about the medicinal value of bear bile recently made by University of Minnesota molecular gastroenterology program director Clifford Steer. Steer asserted that bear bile contains an acid which may be beneficial in treating Parkinson s disease, Huntington s disease, Alzheimer s disease, spinal cord injuries, and stroke but his findings have not yet cleared peer review for scientific publication.