Two bears have been rescued from an illegal ‘bile farm’ in Vietnam where they have lived for an estimated 17 years in total darkness. 

By Chris Pleasance 

Two bears have been rescued from an illegal ‘bile farm’ in Vietnam where they have lived for an estimated 17 years in total darkness. 

The Asiatic bears – a male named Xuan and a female named Mo – only got to see artificial light when they were undergoing excruciating bile extraction procedures. 

Workers from animal charity Four Paws carried out the rescue, and say they were appalled by the conditions which are among the worst they have ever seen.

Xuan had been kept in a small cage in the basement of a clothes shop in Son La, northern Vietnam, since 2004 – when he was just a cub. It is not known exactly how long Mo was kept with him.

Workers from animal charity Four Paws carried out the rescue, and say they were appalled by the conditions which are among the worst they have ever seen.

Vets who examined the bears said they were both suffering gallbladder disease due to the organ being repeatedly drained, and were overweight

The bears’ cages were rusty and dirty, rescuers said, they had no easy access to fresh air, and there was barely any ventilation in the basement.

Left alone in the darkness for hours on end, they had no stimulation and were fed only a diet of rotten vegetables to keep them alive.

Bear bile is a prized ingredient used in traditional Asian medicine. The fluid is extracted from the gallbladder, and used to be collected by hunters after a kill.

Methods of bile extraction include repeatedly puncturing the gallbladder with probes, fitting permanent catheters, or creating a permanent hole or ‘fistula’ from which the bile can be drained.

Xuan also had a lot of damage to his teeth. Caged bears typically damage their teeth chewing the bars in an attempt to escape

The procedures can be extremely painful if performed without anesthetic, and can cause prolonged suffering or infection if the catheters or fistulas are not tended to.

The practice has been illegal in Vietnam since 1992, but continues to be legal in China – with bear bile even recommended as a cure for Covid early in the pandemic.

Bear bile contains ursodeoxycholic acid which is proven to dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease.

A synthetic form of the acid has been widely available for decades, but demand for the ‘natural’ version persists.

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