"The government of Laos, with the cooperation of an NGO will send the bears to [a wildlife sanctuary] in Borikhamxay province," an official with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said.
Lao authorities want to stop this trade. For this purpose, they are planning to build a wildlife rehabilitation centre in the province at a cost of US $700,000, the official added.
Bear bile is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine for a variety of ailments and diseases, including cancer. It is usually extracted twice a day from a bear’s gall bladder through an implanted tube or collected via a free flowing drip method in which a wound is kept permanently open in a bear’s abdomen.
To facilitate the extraction process, bears are kept in “crush” cages that are so small that they prevent the bear from standing up or even moving. For environmentalists, “this is torture to the animals.”
Bear bile is also of questionable efficacy. Whilst an acid found in bear bile has been proven to aid in the treatment of gallstones, the same substance can be reproduced chemically in a laboratory. Bear bile has no other scientifically proven uses in the field of medicine.
Yet, demand is high. One millilitre of bear bile, or roughly a third of a teaspoon, can sell for 120,000 kip (US$ 15)—a hefty price for Laotians who earn an average salary of just 240,000 kip (US$ 30) per month.
The product is sold in China, Vietnam, Korea and elsewhere.
According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, more than 12,000 bears are currently estimated to be housed in both illegal and legal bear farms across Asia.
According to TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade-monitoring network, the trade of parts and derivatives from second-generation captive-bred bears is permitted in Laos under the Wildlife and Aquatic Law.