Photo credit: Gurerin Nicolas
According to Hindu mythology, Jambavantha was a black bear and assistant to Rama in finding Sita his wife. The black bear is also associated with the mountain spirit ‘mountain man’ or ‘mountain uncle’ in Japanese folklore.
Ursus thibetanus formosanus
Ursus thibetanus gerosianus
Ursus thibetanus japonicas
Ursus thibetanus laniger
Ursus thibetanus mupinensis
Ursus thibetanus thibetanus
Ursus thibetanus ussuricus
Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Assam
Siberia, Korea, Northeastern China
These beautiful animals are most noted for their white moon shaped chest marking. They are also similar in size to American black bears with adults reaching up to 7 feet in body length and up to 113kg (250lbs.) in weight. These animals are omnivorous* and eat a variety of fruits, insects and larvae, small mammals, herbs, fungi, eggs, woody plants and bees’ nests.
Unfortunately, human induced disturbances have caused an ever dwindling population decline that poses serious threats to the existence of Asiatic black bears in the near future. These threats include: habitat loss, hunting, and most serious, the coveted use of bear bile in traditional medicines.
The first recorded use of bear bile was found in the Materia Medica from the Tang Dynasty in 659 A.D. The active ingredient in bear bile is ursodeoxycholic acid (UCDA). Bear bile is sold in various forms including: pills, crystals, whole galls and liquid. UCDA is used in traditional medicine to treat various symptoms ranging from cough to impotence.
In 1984 bear bile farming was legalized under government sanction in China as a purported ‘conservation measure’, however there have been various accounts of bears being harvested from the wild to stock bile farms. In addition to the legal farms that occur in China, illegal bear farming operations can be found in Japan, Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. Bear bile medicines are found in traditional medicine outlets throughout Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore). Both the selling of bear bile medicines and farming of bears for bile is illegal according to national law (with the omission of China) and contravenes CITES, of which all the above listed countries are signatories.
Legalized production and sales of bear bile in China in addition to illegal production and trade from Asia to the international markets has caused bear bile to become a commodity as it is frequently found in non-traditional/ non-essential products including: wine, tea, shampoo and soda pop. Despite over 54 varieties of herbal equivalents to bear bile in the Chinese pharmacopoeia, the trade of bear bile flourishes.
Asiatic black bears are Vulnerable and it is of grave concern that the trade of bear bile has surmounted to unsustainable levels.
- Knowledge is our most powerful tool, learn about the issues and spread the word.
- If you use any traditional medicines, do not use those that contain bear bile or products containing protected wildlife.
- Opt for herbal animal-free medicinal remedies.
- Omnivore: From Latin ‘omni’ meaning everything. An animal whose diet consists of both plants and animals.