The moon bear (Ursus thibetanus) is a species of bear native to Asia. Despite what its common name may lead you to believe, this animal does not hail from space, but in fact gets its common name from the crescent shaped white patch of fur on its chest. It is unique in that it shares many characteristics with prehistoric bears, and is believed by some scientists to be the direct ancestor of all living bear species in the subfamily Ursinae, which includes the polar bear, black bear, and brown bear.
This remarkable bear is a living link to the prehistoric past, but unfortunately it is in danger of becoming extinct itself. Despite being protected from hunting and listed as endangered in China, India, Pakistan, Japan, Russia, Taiwan and Vietnam, it still faces serious threats from habitat destruction, illegal hunting, and being regarded as a “nuisance animal”. As human populations expand, more and more developments are encroaching into moon bear habitats, and they are also killed for damaging crops and orchards. Demand is high for many of their body parts, especially the gall bladder, which is used in traditional Asian medicine to treat various ailments.
|Moon Bear||Moon Bear|
In particular, these bears are harvested for their bile, which is a digestive material stored in the gallbladder. Sun bears and brown bears are also targeted for their bile, but the moon bear is by far the most exploited in this practice. While poaching still occurs, farming has become the more common method used to obtain bear bile and many animals are illegally caught or trapped in the wild to be used on farms. This unregulated practice causes great harm to the bears involved, which are typically kept in cramped cages for many years while their bile is harvested. In addition to the physical trauma, these creatures also endure severe mental stress due to the poor conditions imposed on them. Moon bears kept in bile farms experience extremely reduced life expectancy compared with wild and healthy captive bears.
Despite bile farming being an estimated $2 billion a year industry, bear bile has no proven medicinal qualities whatsoever. Fortunately, there are organizations taking a stand to end the cruelty of bile bear farming. One such organization is Animals Asia, which is devoted to putting a stop to bile bear farms in China and Vietnam, where it is estimated a total of over 11,200 bears are being kept in bile farms. Animal Asia’s efforts include operating bear sanctuaries for rescued moon bears, raising public awareness of bear farming, lobbying governments to craft and enforce new policies to end bear farms, reducing bile demand in traditional Asian communities by promoting herbal and synthetic alternatives, and tracking trends in the bile trade to monitor the effect the industry is having on moon bear populations.
How can you help save these moon bears? One way is to donate to Animals Asia. Even just sharing their literature can help raise awareness of the cause. It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but every little bit of action helps us get closer to a world where cruel bile farms are a thing of the past, so these remarkable bears can endure long into the future.