Today with a radio show in the morning, I could only attend the afternoon sessions at the International Association for Bear Research and Management, but that was quite a smorgasbord of information, followed by a meeting that involved some members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Bear Specialist Group. The IUCN meets this fall and elects a new chairman, who can then replace all the other committee heads, and politics are in play, particularly concerning China. I really appreciated it that this meeting was open to the public so we could learn the ins and outs of the situation.
The Giant Panda went into a serious decline some years ago and Chinese research was presented to show it may be recovering. At least its habitat has been expanded and maybe made less fragmented. It will be up to the Bear Specialist Group whether they want to “downlist” the species.
The IUCN is restricted to conservation issues only, and not allowed to consider issues of “animal welfare.” But it is nonetheless circling around the bear gall bladder trade – something that is already outlawed internationally. The bile of Asian Black Bears is a traditional Chinese medicine. There is clinical trial evidence that this medicine does work to address inflammation. Some years ago a “bear ranching” technique was developed in Korea and is now widespread in China. It is a fairly despicable practice of caging bears and putting a catheter into their gall bladders, draining them a couple of times a day. This is now an industry that involves thousands of bears. Were they captured as cubs, or bred in captivity? The answer is unclear. So is much, much else.
Oddly, a survey of users of this medicine shows that a majority of them think this vivisection known as “bear farming” is beneficial to the wild bears because it provides an alternative – and inexpensive – source of the medicine. It all gets fairly murky from here on in, with the Chinese government directing the IUCN investigators to medicine vendors who swear hardly anybody is buying the stuff any more, and on and on.