An Asiatic black bear used in the bear bile industry, pictured on a farm in South Korea

A long-awaited victory for bears, as South Korea announces an end to bear bile farming

Press release

Today, is a landmark day for hundreds of bears held captive in South Korea’s archaic and cruel bear bile industry.

The South Korean Ministry of Environment has signed a joint agreement with the Bear Farmers Association and key local animal protection organisations1. The agreement sets out a commitment to prohibit bear bile farming and bile extraction from 1 January 2026, and that the signatories agree to co-operate to humanely conserve and care for the remaining live bears.

World Animal Protection has been working hard in partnership with Green Korea United to end this cruel industry since 2003. This included negotiating an agreement with the Bear Farmers Association and the government to have bile bears sterilized to ensure that this will be the last generation of bears to suffer in captivity for their bile. Both organisations have campaigned to end illegal and legal bear bile farming in South Korea.

Currently, it is illegal to extract bile from bears in South Korea while they are alive. However, it is legal to slaughter the animals for their whole gall bladder for use in Traditional Asian medicine when they are 10 years old. With the agreement, and the necessary legislative framework to be put in place in the interim, the practice of cruelly exploiting bears as commodities will be abolished once and for all, ending the 40-year industry.

Maya Pastakia, Global Campaign Manager – Wildlife, Not Medicine, at World Animal Protection said:

“This is the result that we, in partnership with Green Korea United, have been tirelessly campaigning and working towards for over 18 years - we are absolutely thrilled. Captive bile bears are cruelly exploited and commodified. They live out their lives in tiny, cramped cages, enduring immense mental and physical suffering - unable to climb trees, play and forage for food as they would in the wild.

“The South Korean government has taken a bold stand for bears - something made all the more impactful by the Bear Farmers Association and animal welfare organisations joining hands and taking this momentous decision.

“The agreement sends a clear and positive signal that the cruel practice of bear bile farming is no longer acceptable in a modern country, especially since herbal alternatives are readily available. Bears are not medicine. They are sentient beings and belong in the wild.”

The government is also planning to construct a new shelter in Guyre-gun that will accommodate 49 bile bears, and another wildlife sanctuary in Seocheon-gun, that will home about 70 bears. World Animal Protection welcomes this development but urges the government to ensure that enough sanctuary spaces are created to house all remaining bears after January 2026 and that a plan to humanely manage the bears is implemented in the interim.

Kyoungsun Woo, Co-Director of Green Korea United, said:

“The agreement to end the bear bile farming industry is the outcome of a joint effort from those citizens who pursued their interest in this issue and participated in the rescue campaigns. We urge the Ministry of Environment to stop being reactive and come forward using today’s declaration to mark the beginning of the end to this industry.

“The Ministry of Environment should be proactive and take action to ensure that the shelters for the bears to be built in Gurye and Seocheon will play their role as the national facilities to safely protect the remaining bears left on the farms.”

Between 2014-2017, the Ministry of Environment sterilised 967 bile bears held in captivity for their bile. With the completion of the sterilisation programme, the bile bear population has steadily declined by 75%.  Today, across South Korea, 360 bears remain on farms, compared to 1,400 in the mid-2000s when the industry was at its peak. World Animal Protection will continue to work to end the bear bile trade in other parts of Asia, notably Vietnam and China, working to protect bears and ensure this is the last generation of suffering.


Notes to editors:

  • This announcement is a welcome development to World Animal Protection as it celebrates its 30-year anniversary, working to protect bears. During this period, the organisation has rescued and rehomed hundreds of bears around the world, designed and funded 12 bear sanctuaries globally, and worked in 25 countries to help captive bears. This is in addition the mass sterilisation initiatives, consumer campaigns, and government lobbying.
  • Read World Animal Protection’s report, Cruel Cures about bear bile farming.
  • Bear bile is used in Traditional Asian Medicine and is believed to treat abscesses, haemorrhoids, epilepsy and cysts. The suffering is wholly unjustified as herbal and synthetic alternatives are all readily available. The bear bile industry has led to poaching of wild bears over the past 36 years with poaching leading to a sharp decline in the numbers of bears in the wild in Asia.
  • Read our white paper Ending bear bile farming in South Korea.
  • There are approximately 24,000 bears in Asia are kept in captivity for their bile to be harvested for the traditional medicine the industry. All native Asiatic bear species are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This means they must not be traded commercially internationally.
  • World Animal Protection aims to end the cruel exploitation and commodification of wild animals used in Traditional Asian Medicine by disrupting the systems that sustain the industry – to keep wild animals in the wild where they rightly belong. Our work includes:
    • Changing policies and legislation governing legal wildlife farming.
    • Strengthening laws, policies, monitoring and enforcement to ensure that bears are protected from all forms of bile extraction and exploitation.
    • Shifting attitudes and behaviours of multiple stakeholders to support animal welfare, conservation and herbal alternatives.
    • Working with local organisations to urge governments to live up to their international commitments to protect bears and other wild animals.
    • Demonstrating reputational risk for companies that continue to profit from cruelty, leading them to change policies and publicly support wildlife-friendly business practices.

This is the result that we, in partnership with Green Korea United, have been tirelessly campaigning and working towards for over 18 years - we are absolutely thrilled.