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Mother Bear Kills Cub and Self to Escape Life of Bile "Milking"

by Piper Hoffman
March 10, 2013

Note: Animals Asia has reported that they have been unable to completely verify origin of this incident. Although these bears are indeed kept under extremely inhumane conditions, there is no evidence that this is typical behavior for a bear in this situation.

A mother killed her baby and herself to end the torture of life on a bear bile farm. She hugged her cub until it suffocated, then drove her own head into a wall.

Bear bile is prized in traditional Chinese medicine, and the demand for it has led to mass production. Bear farmers lock moon bears into "crush cages," so small the bears can't move. Then farmers puncture their gall bladders to siphon off their bile.

The resulting wound stays open because farmers force needles or shunts into it so often. It becomes "susceptible to infections and diseases which can cause the animals unbearable pain," according to the Daily Mail. Also common are broken teeth from biting on the bars of cages, painful foot conditions and even malignant tumors.

This can go on for 20 years, until the bear stops producing bile and is killed. More than 12,000 bears are caged on bile farms.

The following video contains some disturbing images.

Video credit: Animals Asia

What A Mother Bear Knows

Moon bears have large vocabularies and lots of smarts. They know what is going on.

This mother reacted immediately when her cub cried of distress because farmers were puncturing its gall bladder for the first time. She broke out of her own cage and into her cub's cage and did the only thing she could to save her baby from suffering.

This story is heartbreaking, but it is also an illustration of moon bears' intelligence. Consider what this bear had to understand to do what she did: that what the farmers were doing felt the same way to someone else as it did when they did it to her; that the farmers would keep on doing this to her baby again and again; and the nature of death -- namely, that it would end everything.

Consider also the depth of her devotion to her cub: she broke out of her cage, which she must have been able to do before but never did -- or else she had one of those moments of super-adrenaline that allow mothers to lift cars off their children; and after she hugged her baby to death, she killed herself. The Daily Mail says she killed herself to end her torture, but she could have done that before. I think that may have been part of it, but mostly she killed herself because she had killed her cub.

This moon bear isn't the only mother trapped in a factory farm who has gone to extremes to protect her young. Veterinarian Holly Cheever tells the tale of a dairy cow she treated who had given birth four times, and had her newborn confiscated every time. The fifth time, out in pasture at night and without humans around (obviously this happened a while ago, before factory farming had adopted near-constant restraints), she had twins. This cow understood that the farmer knew she had been pregnant, that he was expecting a calf, and that he would take her calves away as he had all her previous babies. So she hatched a plan.

In the morning she brought one of her calves to the farmer, so that he would be satisfied. She hid the other calf in the woods at the edge of the pasture. "Every day and every night, she stayed with her baby -- the first she had been able to nurture FINALLY -- and her calf nursed her dry with gusto," Cheever relates.

That gusto led to a glitch the poor mother had not anticipated. Her udder was empty every time the farmer tried to milk her. Eventually he figured things out, found the bull calf, and stole him away for a short, miserable life in a veal crate. His mother's efforts may not have bought him that much time, but they did reveal how smart she was and how capable of love.

Moon Bears and Their Bile

CITES lists moon bears as one of the most critically endangered species in the world. Any trade in them or their parts is illegal. Estimates of their population vary; some estimate that in all of Asia there are only 16,000 moon bears in the wild.

Many experts, including some practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, say that there are herbal or synthetic alternatives that have the same effects as bear bile and its active ingredient, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA).

Bile farmers are producing too much bile. The market is saturated. Rather than scale down their operations, they keep the bears caged and keep suctioning fluids out of live bears' bellies, then sell the result in the form of non-therapeutic products like shampoo. Those non-medicinal products account for half of the bile farmers sell.

Please watch the above video from advocacy group Animals Asia for more information on the plight of moon bears.

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