Bear used for its bile in cage

Cruel bear bile industry thrives despite pandemic risks

Press release

As the world struggles with the COVID19 pandemic, World Animal Protection reveals the abhorrent cruelty of bear farming, and the unacceptable growth of the bear bile trade in a new report – Cruel Cures.

The report comes just days after extremely disappointing news that the Chinese government recommended the use of a bear bile product, alongside a number of plant-based traditional medicines (TM), to treat severe symptoms caused by COVID19. This shocking development is described in the report as both ‘tragic and ironic’ given that the handling of wild animals is believed to be the source of the COVID19 pandemic. World Animal Protection is calling on the Government to remove this drug from its recommended list and only include plant-based traditional medicines.

The report states approximately 24,000 bears are currently kept caged and farmed for their bile for TM products across Asia - in China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Lao PDR and South Korea. This should ring alarm bells in the wake of the COVID19 contagion, as 60%[1] of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, and of these 70% are thought to originate from wild animals. While COVID9 is a pandemic like no other, collectively, zoonotic diseases cause over two million human deaths annually, as a result of people coming into close proximity with animals.

Bear bile is predominantly used for traditional medicine.  However, the report discloses numerous other products containing bear bile, including toothpaste, cosmetics and alcohol.

The bile is extracted from live, suffering bears, and is one of the most extreme forms of animal abuse in the world. The bears are largely bred into captivity, trapped in small, barren cages in factory farm style conditions for the duration of their long, miserable lives.

They suffer unthinkable traumas on a regular basis. Most commonly, their bile is drained from their gallbladder using a metal tube through a surgically created opening in the bear’s abdomen. The report describes how the intense, agonizing process that the bears are forced to endure causes them to moan and quiver throughout.

Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, Global Head of Wildlife Research and Animal Welfare, World Animal Protection said:

“COVID-19 is ringing the alarm bells louder now than ever before.  Our treatment of bears and other wild animals is cruelty and abuse on an industrial scale.  It has to end now – by putting in place a comprehensive and permanent ban on wildlife trade, and by closing down all bear bile and wildlife farms.

“Bears endure a lifetime of suffering - confined to small cages, distressed, and enduring agonizing pain on a regular basis. Using wildlife in medicine is cruel, unnecessary and a risk to public health. Another world is possible.  Plant-based alternatives are available.”

Recent developments in China and Vietnam have been encouraging, where both countries have banned the consumption of wild animals. Yet, the ban must be extended to include the use of wildlife in traditional medicine, preventing animals such as bears, tigers and pangolins from being abused. Not only will this drastically reduce the human health threat, it will prevent animal suffering too.

World Animal Protection is calling for the China government to remove bear bile preparations from its recommended list and only endorse plant-based medicines to treat COVID-19 symptoms. On a global level World Animal Protection is urging on governments, organisations and nations to unite to end the global trade in wild animals forever.


Notes to editors: 

For an interview with a spokesperson contact:

Kirsty Warren, Global Media Manager
T. +44 (0) 7809 269 747


  • Footage and images available HERE
  • Bear bile is believed to treat inflammation, reduce cholesterol, ocular, liver and gall bladder diseases. Although non-bear bile and herbal alternatives are all readily available, the industry has continued to flourish over the past 36 years with poaching leading to less numbers of bears in the wild. 
  • We are committed to ending the exploitation of bears in the bear bile industry, and to protect wild bears from a lifetime of suffering in captivity. Our work includes:
  • Joining with partners, including governments, global bodies, local partners and individuals, to stop bears being exploited and to create lasting change
  • Promoting better welfare for captive bears, while we move to end the bear bile industry for good
  • Seeking laws, policies, monitoring and enforcement to ensure that captive bears are given space to move, provided with richer environments and are protected from all forms of bile extraction and exploitation
  • Raising awareness of alternatives to bear bile, including herbal and synthetic products, which are readily available, affordable and effective
  • Working with local organisations to urge governments to live up to their international commitments to protect bears and other wild animals.

[1] Jones KE , Patel NG, Levy MA, Storeygard A, Balk D, Gittleman JL, Daszak P; Global trends in emerging infectious diseases; Nature, 451(990-993), 2008


“Bears endure a lifetime of suffering - confined to small cages, distressed, and enduring agonizing pain on a regular basis. Using wildlife in medicine is cruel, unnecessary and a risk to public health. Another world is possible.  Plant-based alternatives are available.