The Plight of the Moon Bears


SEOUL, South Korea — The South Korean government has set aside 200 million won (US$176,000) to investigate the Moon Bear gall bladder bile industry. It takes big money to get a solid investigation going, you know.

Let's have a look at how the investigative team could proceed and whether there is enough money in the budget to confirm there is a problem with the exploitation of Moon Bears.

First things first for our taxpayer-funded team:

A phone call to the statistics department at the Ministry of Environment for recent findings showing that there are 59 bear farms in Korea housing 1,066 bears whose bile is being milked for medicinal products. This on top of several bile-based products imported from bear farms in China.

Cost: Assuming possible roaming charges, 500 won for the call.

From there, find out if the bears are being mistreated:

A quick search on the Internet for images under "moon bear" shows that the ol' bears are not having a very good life down on the farm where they are bound in cages with a tube protruding from their body.

Cost: Free (use neighbor's WiFi connection).

Next, research what is currently being done to address the problem:

As recently as June, the Animals Asia Foundation and the Korean Animal Welfare Association launched a public awareness campaign to educate people about the illegal cross-border trade of bear bile from China to Korea.

Cost: One thousand won for a copy of the Korea Times, which ran the article, or read about it for free online via neighbor's WiFi.

After that, time to gauge public opinion:

A 2011 poll conducted by Hangil Research and Consulting in Korea found that 89.5 percent of Koreans surveyed are against the breeding and killing of bears for bile from their gall bladders.

Cost: Already incurred, it's in the same article mentioned above.

So, our lead investigator thinks to his or herself, what is the bile being used for?

Bear bile falls under the wide swath of the term "Traditional Medicine" and contains ursodeoxycholic acid, which is believed to reduce fever, protect the liver, improve eyesight, break down gallstones and act as an anti-inflammatory. There are also brands of toothpaste that contain bear bile.

Cost: Free from Wikipedia (though you really should donate).

Finally, is there an alternative to bear bile?

Upwards of 50 different herbs, such as coptis or rhubarb, have been claimed as worthy alternatives to milking the gall bladders of caged bears. And a pair of glasses will do your eyesight just fine.

Cost: Whatever will "later" be donated to Wikipedia.

Alright, we've spent only 1,500 won of our budget, and there's still another two and a half hours until lunch. Apparently there is a problem with this bear bile thing. Now what?

A Measure of Hope

Among animal protection groups, hopes are high that the 200 million won is indicative of the government's good intent and mindfulness of the opinion of the Korean citizenry. There is also optimism that it will eventually lead to a banning of farms and a sanctuary for bears currently living in captivity.

Judging by the demonstrated cost to finding out there actually is a problem, there will be plenty left over in the budget to do just that.

If you would like to donate or get involved to help the Moon Bears, visit for more info.

The author cross-posted a version of this article on The Marmot's Hole blog.

Illustration by Ed Young.



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