SICHUAN, Southwest China
April 19th to May 27th 2021 101 bears were relocated from a former bile farm in Nanning, Guangxi province, to the Chengdu Bear Rescue Center in Sichuan province.
China lists the Asian black bear as a Class II protected species, meaning it’s illegal to hunt, kill, or sell them. However, the population of wild Asian black bears, which are native to forests across southern and eastern China, has fallen due to illegal hunting and habitat loss, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Asian black bear as “vulnerable” and says exact populations are unclear.
While the bear wild population is protected, China was home to 68 licensed bear farms as of 2012. Although it is forbidden to capture or kill wild animals, licensed farmers can still extract bile from specimens bred on their farms. Thus the issue with bile farms is on of animal welfare rather than conservation.
Earlier in May, Pixie, a female Asian black bear, underwent a health check at the Chengdu Bear Rescue Centre, one of China’s first and largest bear sanctuaries. She’s one of the 286 bears that have been saved by the center since it was founded in 2002 after the Animals Asia Foundation (a Hong Kong-headquartered nonprofit organisation) collaborated with the Sichuan Provincial Government Forestry Department and the China Wildlife Conservation Association on the rescue of Asian black bears kept in illegal bear farms.
Pixie, like many other bears at the center, was previously kept on a farm, where her bile — a digestive fluid — was frequently harvested for use in traditional Chinese medicine to treat liver complaints and other ailments. Asian black bears — also known as moon bears, thanks to the crescent-shaped blazes of light-colored fur on their chests — often fall victim to the bear bile trade across Asia.
Fortunately for Pixie, her days on the farm are over. After coming to Chengdu, a veterinarian removed her inflamed gallbladder — the organ where bile is stored — and workers at the center helped her heal.
Watch video here:
Conservation status: Ursus thibetanus (Asiatic black bear, Moon bear, or Himalayan black bear)
The Asiatic Black Bear has a coat of smooth black fur and can be distinguished by a V of white fur on its chest. It is similar in appearance to the brown bear, but with a slighter build.
Ecology & Habitat
Broad leaved and coniferous forests to an elevation of 4,300m.
Population & Distribution
Asiatic black bear is classes as vulnerable to extinction. The species occupies a narrow band from southeastern Iran through Afghanistan and Pakistan, across the foothills of the Himalayas, to Myanmar. It occupies all countries in mainland Southeast Asia except Malaysia and has a patchy distribution in southern China. Another population cluster exists in northeastern China, the southern Russian Far East, and into North Korea. A small remnant population exists in South Korea. They also live on the southern islands of Japan (Honshu and Shikoku) and on Taiwan (China) and Hainan.
Although there are no accurate estimates of population size available, it is estimated there are around 50,000 Asiatic black bears left in the world. At the time the Chengdu Bear Rescue Centre was established, it was estimated that fewer than 15,000 black bears were left in the wild in China.
The population is thinning due to excessive poaching and illegal hunting for body parts (specifically for the gall bladder, paws and skin) and loss of habitat (from deforestation, logging, expansion of human settlements and roads).