Bear Gall Bladders Being Poached for Medicinal Beliefs

Bear populations are in danger for a number of reasons. One growing problem is the poaching of bear gall bladders for use in traditional Chinese medicine.

Earlier this month, a young bear with a missing gall bladder was found in Virginia’s Prince William Park. Park Rangers are still working to investigate the crime, but the incident speaks to a much larger issue that is gaining international attention; the poaching of bear gall bladders is becoming more and more prevalent across the globe. Why? Because the organ can yield upwards of $3,000 in Asia, where many people believe that the gall bladder can help treat an array of health conditions, such as fever, liver disease, and diabetes.

According to the Humane Society’s website, the common belief in Asia is that “a person who eats bear paws is believed to acquire the strength and vigor of a bear, and the consumption of bear flesh in believed to enhance one's virility.” The website also states that “clinical research analyzing the medicinal properties of bear gallbladders indicates that they may be effective for treating a number of ills.” Some exclusive Asian restaurants have been reported as selling bear paw soup for over $1,000. Because of the demand and lucrative money to be made, the poaching problems have become rampant.

The evidence behind any medical benefit from a bear’s gall bladder is tough to pinpoint. Some studies have proclaimed the bear gall bladder to be effective in curing hepatic and biliary disorders for decades, and the bile within the organ has reportedly been used in everything from eye drops to pharmaceutical drugs, but there are no proven medical qualities. However, there are no studies that confirm any medical qualities to the bile, which makes the popularity of this black market trade quite peculiar.

Even more mystifying is the fact that some areas in Vietnam and China are home to bile farms, where Asiatic black bears are kept in captivity so that their bile can be extracted and used to treat patients. The reason that the bear bile is highly sought after is because of its ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), which is believed to have an active therapeutic substance. Bears have a much higher concentration of UDCA than other mammals. However, modern science has been able to duplicate this type of “pharmaceutical-grade” UDCA and many Chinese doctors have also endorsed several herbal substitutes. But despite these variables, “some practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine continue to prescribe whole bear bile for their patients and reject any sort of modern substitute,” and consequently drive the demand.

Around the Web

Poaching of bear gallbladders used in traditional medicine increases[LA Times]

The Bear Trade—Questions and Answers [The Humane Society]

Bile Bears and Bear Farms [Wikipedia]