Ingesting bear bile can kill, warns top Vietnamese traditional doctor

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2010:

HANOI– People’s Doctor Nguyen Xuan Huong, chair of the
Traditional Medicine Association of Vietnam, on July 21, 2010
warned that consuming bear bile products can cause potentially fatal
liver and kidney damage.
Huong, who served two terms in the Vietnamese National
Assembly, “joined Animals Asia’s campaign to end bear bile farming
after seeing the shocking effects of bile consumption on some of his
patients, including two government officials who died after taking
bear bile tonics,” said Animals Asia Foundation senior writer Angela
Leary. “Huong has treated 10 patients for bear bile poisoning since
1985, including two he couldn’t save,” Leary said.

Elaborated Huong, “All had damage to the liver and in most
cases, the liver was almost gone. The part that was left was
swollen, necrotic and hard.” Huong said other symptoms of bear bile
poisoning include loss of appetite, fatigue, red eyes, aches and
pains, bloody urine and severe dehydration and perspiration.
Huong rebutted the common claim that bear bile is a
traditional medicine. “I’ve read 17,000 traditional medicine
formulas and only six mentioned the use of bear bile,” he said,
“and even then, its use is minimal and it has little effect. People
should never use bear bile. Eighty per cent of those consuming bear
bile will have liver damage, and if you mix it with rice wine, the
damage will be worse. Even highly educated people still don’t
understand the dangers,” Huang continued. “Bear bile serves a
purpose in bears. It goes against nature for humans to consume it.”
Huong spoke soon after the Animals Asia Foundation won the
release of five moon bears from an illegal bile farm at Ha Long Bay.
Recounted Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson,
“The five are among 24 bears who have been subject of a campaign
supported by 13 foreign embassies and other animal welfare and
conservation groups. Previously, just one bear was transferred to
our sanctuary,” Robinson said, “because of bureaucratic red tape
and lack of political will. In April 2008 the Deputy Prime Minister
of Vietnam–in direct contravention of Vietnamese law– decided not
to confiscate the remaining 79 bears known to be on bile farms around
Ha Long Bay.”
However, Robinson continued, “Following more than two years
of lobbying, the Vietnamese environmental police and the local Ha
Long police raided the Viet Thai Bear Farm at Dai Yen, outside Ha
Long City, on October 2, 2009, and caught employees extracting
and selling bear bile to Korean tourists. Five workers and two South
Koreans, who were visiting the farm on an organised tour, were
detained for questioning. Bile extraction equipment and more than
200 vials containing freshly extracted bear bile were confiscated.
The 24 bears found at the farm had no proof of origin and no
microchips as required by law.
“The five rescued bears–four male and one female –arrived
at Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Tam Dao National Park on
July 1, 2010,” Robinson said. “We hope to see the rest of the
illegal bears at Ha Long Bay transferred into our care soon. In 2005
we signed an agreement with the Vietnamese government to rescue 200
bears and care for them at our sanctuary. To date, we have taken in
62 bears,” Robinson noted.
As many as 4,000 bears remain on Vietnamese bile farms.
Vietnamese entrepreneurs have also introduced bear bile farming to
Laos, reported Fiona MacGregor of the London Daily Telegraph on
August 19, 2010. MacGregor said the eight known Laotian bile farms
together have about 100 bears.
Confining bears to small cages to extract their bile appears
to have originated in North Vietnam between 25 and 30 years ago. By
1993-1994, when Robinson first exposed the cruelty of the bear bile
trade, there were believed to be about 2,500 bears on bile farms in
North Korea, and as many as 7,000 in China.
The Chinese bear bile industry has consolidated in recent
years. At least 42 bile farms have closed, retiring 276 bears to
the Animals Asia Foundation sanctuary near Chengdu. The remaining
Chinese bile farms are believed to still have about 7,000 bears, but
there is no longer any bear bile farming in 20 of the 31 mainland
provinces, and the market for bear bile appears to be contracting.

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