China, Japan, Korea vary their pitch on bear-bile tapping, whaling, & dog-eating

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2000:

– –Challenging animal advocates with an
array of both overt and covert strategies, the
government of Japan in July took the offensive
in a decade-long effort to reopen commercial
whaling, the government of Korea
turned defensive about dog-and-cat-eating
after denial and dismissal got nowhere, and
China may have tried to quell growing global
outrage over tapping 7,000 live bears’ stomachs
to extract bile by handing the Animals
Asia Foundation a “victory” that may be
more of a Trojan Horse.
Activists around the world cheered
a July 23 joint announcement by AAF
founder Jill Robinson, Huang Jian Hua of the
China Wildlife Conservation Association,
and the Sichuan Forestry Department that 500
Asiatic black bears will be retired from the
247 Sichuan bear bile farms during the next
five years, to spend the rest of their lives at a
sanctuary to be created by AAF and the two
Chinese agencies near the city of Ziyang.
“As one can expect, the living conditions
in these bear bile farms are often disturbing.
There is a pressing need for us to
rescue the bears,” Huang told Reuters.
Added Robinson, to Chloe Lai of
the South China Morning Post, “This is not
just about rescue. It is about the future elimination
of bear farming across Asia, and a significant
and permanent turnaround in the protection
of one of the most endangered species
of animal.”
That was a bold spin to put on it,
since as big as the deal is, it still amounts to
receiving only two bears per active bile farm,
who may be at the ends of their usually brief
productive lifespans. The farms are tapping
an average of 28 bears each. The price of bile
has meanwhile fallen 90% in 10 years,
according to Reuters, due to “the advent of
synthetic bear bile and greater awareness of
the inhumane method of harvesting.”
Chinese entrepreneurs reportedly
copied their techniques of bear bile farming
from North Korea––and bootlegged bile
imports from economically desperate North
Korea could also be a factor in the Chinese
bear bile price slump.
A July 20 report from Seoul by
Roger Dean du Mars of the South China
Morning Post hinted that the illegal export of
poached bear parts from South Korea may
have something to do with it as well.
As many as 2,500 Chinese bile farm bears are believed to have died from infections or been killed for their paws, claws, pelts, meat, and bones in recent years, while about 230 bile farms have reportedly folded.

Bears tapped for bile frequently become severely infected from the abdominal wounds where the collection tubes are inserted, according to Robinson’s past statements and descriptions ANIMAL PEOPLE has received from Chinese witnesses. Giving 500 retired and possibly gravely ill bears to opponents of bear bile farming could enable AAS et al to establish an effective public exhibition of the cruelty involved––or it could enable the bile farmers to escape financial liabilities, tie up AAS’ resources, and set AAS up for scathing denunciation when, inevitably, infected bears die.

A guarded view seemed prudent after London Daily Telegraph Beijing correspondent David Rennie reported that Fan Zhiyong, chief of the Chinese delegation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, said he hoped to lift the present global ban on traffic in Asian bear parts, so that China can sell a stockpiled surplus of bile and other products taken from bears to Japan and South Korea. Fan Zhiyong later denied only mentioning Japan and Korea.

Robinson told Rennie that AAS agreed to accept the 500 bears “on the understanding that the central authorities have approved the long-term goal of eliminating bear farming.”

But a World Society for the Protection of Animals spokesperson countered that WSPA believes, “At present the [Chinese] government has no intention of ending this industry.”

Japan kills sperm whales

The four-ship Japanese whaling fleet sailed on June 29 from separate docks in Shimono-seki, Inonshina, and Shiyogawa to rendezvous at sea and kill 50 minke whales, 50 Brydes whales, and 10 sperm whales in the North Pacific.

Done for “research,” but with official acknowledgement that the whales’ meat will be sold, the hunt was the first open assault on Brydes whales and sperm whales since Japan in 1990 belatedly joined the global whaling moratorium declared by the International Whaling Commission in 1986.

Japan reportedly also plans to kill 300 or more minke whales in southern waters for “research” and meat sales.

The expedition defied a nonbinding resolution opposing so-called research whaling, ratified at the 52nd annual IWC meeting held earlier in July at Adelaide, Australia.

“This is really an aggressive move by Japan,” U.S. deputy assistant secretary for commerce Roland Schmitten told Robin McKie, science editor of the London Observer.

White House spokesperson P.J. Cowley told media that, “We have at the highest levels expressed our opposition to the expanded Japanese whaling program. We are disappointed that the Japanese are moving ahead with it.”

Cowley reportedly said that U.S. trade sanctions against Japan were a possibility, and would be discussed at a scheduled meeting among Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Japanese representatives.

Responded Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson, “We will be pleasantly surprised if President Bill Clinton actually enforces U.S. law to protect whales. Seven years of political accommodation and compromise by the Clinton administration has led the world and the whales to this pass.”

Watson pointed out that just before the IWC met, a senior campaign worker for U.S. Vice President and Presidential candidate Albert Gore “told [U.S. Citizens Against Whaling founder Sandra Abels] that the Vice President would be in favor of eliminating the global whaling ban so that whaling could be ‘better regulated.’”

Gore retreated from that position after the remarks to Abels hit the Internet. Watson recalled, however, that Gore as far back as October 1993 pledged to then-Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland that the Clinton administration would cooperate with Norway, and by implication Japan as well, to “complete all aspects of the Revised Management Scheme,” the protocol for setting whaling quotas which must be approved by the IWC before legal commercial whaling can resume.

In Adelaide, 10 nations formerly opposed to whaling, including Sweden, South Africa, Ireland, Mexico, and the Netherlands joined with Japan and allies to expedite the approval of a final draft of the RMS. If the draft is ratified, as expected, at an intercessional meeting set for February 2001, commercial whaling could resume as early as July 2001, after the 53rd annual IWC meeting, which is to be held in London.

Japanese clout was evident throughout the four-day Adelaide meeting, as on July 4 Japan won just enough votes to block a motion from Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. to create a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary. This, in effect, would have forbidden any high-seas whaling in the southern hemisphere. Needing a 75% majority, the motion fell short, 18-11, with four abstentions and two IWC member nations absent.

One of the swing votes was cast by the Caribbean nation of Dominica, population 70,000. Dominica environment minister Atherton Martin then resigned, saying that being “held to ransom by Japan, in return for promises of aid” was “undignified, unacceptable, and must be resisted.”

Dogs and cats

Dog meat eaters including some of the most influential figures in the Korean mass media meanwhile struggled throughout the summer to portray opposition to dog-and-cateating as just a manifestation of western ethnic intolerance.

Traditionally that approach has worked––but unlike 15 to 20 years ago, when dog-and-cat-eating were fought mainly by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the opposition now comes chiefly from the fast-growing but economically challenged Korean animal protection movement. Korean Animal Protection Society founder Sunnan Kum and her younger sister, International Aid for Korean Animals founder Kyenan Kum, are leading the protests, mailing the literature, and producing the undercover videos confirming how dogs are slowly strangled, beaten, and blowtorched before they die to insure that their bodies are saturated with the adrenalin that the mostly middle-aged-to-elderly male dog meat eaters crave.

The Kum sisters are also testifying from direct observation about how cats are boiled alive to make a tonic favored by aging Korean women.

The growing weight of evidence that these practices are not accepted even by most Koreans––who until recently have had no political authority––has forced Korean representatives into a defensive posture.

“A protest against Korean dog and cat eating held on June 29 at the United Nations building in New York City elicited an apparent staged counter-demonstration by the South Korean Consulate,” Companion Animal Network founder Garo Alexanian told ANIMAL PEOPLE.

But Alexanian and others who described the scene to ANIMAL PEOPLE were more anxious about possible covert disruption than by attempts to play the race-and-culture card.

Concern about sabotage surfaced when a frequent participant in New York City animal rights events, identified by acquaintances as Bobby Flowers, age unknown, circulated among the June 29 protesters and bystanders claiming to have beaten his cat to death over a week’s time earlier in the month.

What to do about Flowers became a topic of heated discussion both during the day and on the Internet throughout the next several weeks. The American SPCA, responsible for cruelty investigations in New York City, reportedly interviewed Flowers at his home. Informed close observers told ANIMAL PEOPLE that in absence of physical evidence, cruelty charges probably could not be laid.

The Flowers incident was a distraction, but did not cost Kyenan Kum et al any momentum.

“On July 1,” she wrote, “we held another demonstration in downtown Flushing, where the largest Korean population in the U.S. is found. Hundreds of people signed our petitions and took our literature. Three young Korean women from Flushing offered to start a chapter of IAKA in Flushing and table for us. At the height of our rallies on both days,” Kyenan Kum confirmed, “a Korean group claiming to love dogs but accusing us of harming Korean people were forced by the police to leave when they began harrassing us.”

“On July 9 in downtown Seoul, South Korean,” Kyenan Kum continued, “Sunnan Kum [her sister] and 50 members of the Korean Animal Protection Society [ w h i c h Sunnan founded] led a demonstration, joined by three members of the Anti-Dog Meat Headquarters, six people representing Citizens Forum to Prevent Cruelty to Animals, and six dogs.”

Sympathy protests were held in many other cities around the U.S. and Canada, while Czech activist Petr Hejl amplified an Internet appeal for a boycott of Korean goods.

Victory in Korea is still nowhere in sight, but Thai officials are reportedly using the momentum of the campaign to help them curtail dog slaughter. Most Thais are Buddhists, many of them vegetarians, to whom dog-eating is abhorent. However, Thailand is also a very poor nation, with a strong tradition of cultural tolerance. This has created a national dilemna over the past 25 years, as relatively well-educated and affluent ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam settled in the northern provinces, introduced dog-eating, and started a lucrative export industry, selling as many as 500 dog pelts per week to China, and selling the dogs’ frozen meat to Korea.

On July 6, Sakhon Nakhon province public relations officer Ruksit Wadayotha announced a public education campaign meant to show residents that, “dogs are pets, not food.”

Ten days later, Thai foreign ministry spokesperson Don Pramudwinai told media that a new national anti-cruelty law is being drafted which would forbid killing either dogs or cats for meat, fur, or leather.

[The Korean Animal Protection Society may be contact – ed c/o International Aid for Korean Animals, POB 20600, Oakland, CA 94620; 510-271-6795; fax 510-451-0643; <>.]</>

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