Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of months, you can’t have failed to notice that a novel virus (commonly known as coronavirus) is rapidly spreading across the globe, with rates of new infections and deaths from COVID-19 rising daily. Who could’ve predicted that the arrival of 2020 would bring with it a pandemic forcing us into a global lockdown? Well, actually, many scientists and activists have been warning that we’re forcing our planet to its knees with our current way of life, but still, this is not what most of us imagined the first half of 2020 would look like.
Despite the events of the last few weeks being shocking and anxiety-inducing for many people, there were some positive news stories in amongst the many bad ones. With cruel and unnecessary events like horse-racing and bullfighting being cancelled, there were certainly a few wins for animals in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Unfortunately, there is no good news for bears in China and Southeast Asia. China’s Health Commission has been promoting bear bile as a treatment for severe COVID-19 cases. The recommended “medicine” is Tan Re Qing; which consists of bear-bile powder, goat horns and various plants. In China the bile is mainly taken from the Asiatic Black Bear which is classified on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as “vulnerable”, due to the threats of bile-harvesting and deforestation.
The Hong-Kong based charity, Animals Asia Foundation, has been campaigning for the end of bear farming for a long time. More than 20,000 bears are held in captivity on bear bile farms. Animals Asia’s investigations show that bears are kept in cages too small for them to even turn around and bear cubs are often placed in cages which they won’t leave again for their entire lives. It’s not just bears on farms are being exploited for their bile though. Some people believe that bear bile from wild bears is of better quality and will therefore pay a higher price for it. A significant number of bears die during the bile-harvesting surgery as a result of infection or stress. Even sick bears are used for this horrible method and when finally these bears are too ill to be of use they’re left to starve in their tiny cages.
While China has decided to temporarily ban the consumption and transport of wild animals for food – as a response to the global threat of future pandemics – it doesn’t seem like there is much consistency when it comes to traditional medicines or indeed an acknowledgement that this global emergency was caused by humans exploiting wild animals in the first place. Whether we use animals for food or medicine, it is this exploitation which has led us to where we are right now. People attempting to treat this outbreak with bear bile could quite possibly be putting us at risk of the next pandemic.
Bear farming does not look very different from the factory farming images we’re familiar with from all around the world. Hundreds of animals are crammed together in small cages, often with dead animals left to rot amongst the living. What better breeding ground for the next pandemic could we possibly provide? And does it sound any more sensible to use bile from wild bears, when we have just learned that our use of wild animals is likely the reasonable cause of this current crisis in the first place?
We must also consider the message this sends to legal and illegal traders of bear bile. On the one hand, the government makes the consumption of wildlife illegal and on the other hand it promotes the use of it in traditional medicine. Surely that’s completely contradictory!
Humans have to stop exploiting and abusing animals, full stop! Not only is it completely unethical to inflict a life of suffering on other beings, but it could also cause us to wipe out our species as a whole. If we continue to treat and farm animals the way we do it now, there will be far worse pandemics to come.
When has the abuse of animals ever done us any good?