Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Primitive medicine and animal cruelty in Vietnam
As a supposed hangover cure, they don't come more brutally disturbing than bear bile. Extracted from the animal with a long needle inserted into the gall bladder on illegal bear farms in Vietnam and China, the endangered Asiatic black bear - also known as Moon Bears because of the crescent of white fur on their chest - is subjected to a slow death from infection and disease in tiny cages that restrict their movements. "In Vietnam, men in particular mix bear bile with rice wine because they believe it makes them stronger and able to drink more," says Tuan Bendixsen, Vietnam director of Animals Asia, an animal welfare group. "It's been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years and there are claims that it can cure everything from hangovers, liver cirrhosis to cancer," he says. "People mix it with alcohol and rub it on their skin to reduce swelling. To that extent, we acknowledge that it does work, but there are alternatives; cortisone, for example, or even Dencorub." The bile extraction process differs from country to country. In China, the bears are housed in coffin-sized crush cages to prevent the animal moving, making it easier and safer for an operator to insert a catheter, and in some cases to simply suture the organ to an opening in the abdomen so the bile can be drained continuously into a collecting tray. In Vietnam, however, the animal is sedated - sometimes using illegal street ketamine - taken into the open and a four-inch needle inserted into its abdomen and the bile drawn out. The non-sterile conditions can quickly lead to infection, a situation which not only endangers the bear but also bile users. Bile samples have shown contamination with everything from cancer cells to pus. Some users, says Animals Asia, have become seriously ill from using it. "There have been some recent cases of people being poisoned by bear bile," says Bendixsen. "A few months ago, we heard of a case of 76-year-old man who swallowed bear bile to help him get over injuries from a fall. Within half an hour his body was heating up, a shower didn't help him cool down and within two days he was in hospital with a severe reaction to the bile. His body was covered in red spots and his skin was peeling. It was a severe allergic reaction."