Captive and Wild Bears Throughout the World Killed for Bladders and Bile
Washington, D.C. – Today, Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation, the Center for a Humane Economy, SPCA International, and other organizations lauded U.S. Senators John Kennedy, R-La., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., for introducing legislation to stop the exploitation of bears, seeking to end the killing of the animals for their gall bladders. The Bear Poaching Elimination Act is a companion bill to H.R. 2325, introduced in 2021 by U.S. Representatives Ted Lieu, D-Calif.; Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Ann Kuster, D-N.H., Glenn Thompson, R-Penn., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif.
Bear gall bladders are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and in China, South Korea, and Vietnam, there are bear “farms” where the animals are housed in concrete pits and “milked” for their bile, in demonstrably inhumane conditions. Wild bears, including in North America, are also known to be poached just for their gall bladders. The Bear Poaching Elimination Act would forbid any interstate transport or sales of bear galls and other viscera and forbid any imports or exports of these body parts. There are eight species of bears in the world, and once gall bladders are extracted from the body of a bear, they are visually indistinguishable in terms of species type.
“We shouldn’t be killing rhinos for their horns, elephants for their tusks, or bears for their bladders,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. “Wildlife trafficking is one of the greatest threats to rare species throughout the world, and the Bear Poaching Elimination Act is a lever to protect vulnerable species from reckless and warranted commerce in their parts.”
Senator Kennedy has been one of the strongest advocates for animal welfare in the Congress, and Senator Duckworth is chair of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife.
“Poaching bears to harvest their organs is cruel, and it’s destroying bear populations,” said Senator Kennedy. “The Bear Poaching Elimination Act would help keep these animals safe by making it harder for animal abusers to profit from their brutality.”
“The gruesome bear viscera commercial trade leads to unacceptable abuse of these bears, and I’m proud to join Senator Kennedy to introduce this bipartisan bill that would help put an end to this inhumane practice in the United States and help slow bear poaching and the decline of bear populations,” said Senator Duckworth.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced a nearly identical bill two decades ago and his bill passed the Senate twice by Unanimous Consent, but the measures were not acted upon by the House. U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva D-Ariz., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, previously introduced this legislation in the 111th Congress.
Across the United States, bears and cubs are killed by poachers who take only their gallbladders, and sometimes their paws, leaving the rest of the bear behind. The gallbladders are easy to conceal and attract a high price (exceeding $1,000 per gallbladder) due to their use in some traditional Chinese medicine. The trade is heavily centralized in China and South Korea, where bears are held captive, crowded with other bears in entirely unnatural circumstances, and drained of bile with the use of an invasive tube inserted into their bodies. Bears are kept in small cages for years with a tube inserted directly into their gallbladder to obtain bile, often until the bear dies from the effects of this invasive and dangerous process. Circumstances for wild Asian bear are particularly perilous, while other species of bears throughout the world face threats from the trade in their parts and the effects of other human activities.
There are 40 states have laws on the books to address this trade, revealing the emerging consensus to address this problem. The Bear Protection Act is needed to make a global statement about the trade from the United States, and to address gaps or inconsistencies in state laws. A trafficker in Colorado may face up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine, while a trafficker in Kentucky may receive only a $100 fine. Federal sentencing guidelines dictate that the market value of the item must be at least $350 for a prosecution under the federal Lacey Act, but the courts attribute the value of a gallbladder to only $280.