Credit: Animals Asia


Demand for bear bile products comes mainly from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.  The products are also found in a number of other countries including, but not limited to, Australia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, the US and Canada.  Bears are held in  held in captivity on farms and “milked” regularly for their bile, which is used in traditional medicine.

Most farmed bears are kept in tiny cages. In China, the cages are sometimes so small that the bears are unable to turn around or stand on all fours. Some bears are put into cages as cubs and never leave them. They may grow too large to fit through the cage door or, as in the case of Franzi remain stunted and tiny because they simply have no room to grow. Bears may be kept caged like this for up to 30 years. This has a terrible effect on their physical and mental well-being.

The bile, which is stored in the gall bladder, is collected by means of various extraction methods, all of which cause massive infections in the bears. Most farmed bears are starved, dehydrated and suffering from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that not only contaminate their bile but ultimately kill them. Very few receive appropriate medication or any type of veterinary care; there have been instances where old or very sick bears are left to starve to death in their cages.

Despite the availability of inexpensive and effective herbal and synthetic alternatives – and the dangers of consuming bile from sick bears – bile farming continues.

The current situation

Around 10,000 bears are currently kept on Chinese bear farms where they produce a surplus of bile which has led to efforts to expand the use of bear bile into cosmetics and shampoos.  China initiated commercial bear farming in 1984, ostensibly to satisfy the demand for bile by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Traditional Korean Medicine (TKM).

As the bile is periodically drained the captive bears do not have to be killed; it was claimed that this practice would  reduce the taking of wild bears. The farms were initially stocked with wild bears and although the Chinese farms are purportedly now mainly self-propagating (with some continuing exceptions), there is no evidence that their existence has reduced the killing (poaching) of wild bears.

In 2005 in Vietnam species-specific legislation was introduced banning the practice of bear bile farming; sadly the practice still persists due to legal loopholes and continuing product demand exists.  Official government figures indicate that there were 1,453 bear farmers in the country in 2005, and show a gradual decline in the number of farmed bears from 4,190 in 2005 to around 3,500 in 2009. The most recent government estimate puts the number of bears at around 400. Many farms in Vietnam are small, family-owned enterprises, with some families or companies owning a single bear and extracting bile occasionally. Farms were initially stocked with bears removed from the wild. The condition in which these bears are kept precludes successful breeding and cub rearing; in fact, most of farms do not attempt to breed their bears.

In Vietnam, moon bears and Malayan sun bears are both farmed. Under Vietnam’s Ministerial Decree 32, both of these species are listed in category 1B (critically endangered) and are legally protected. However, due to a lack of law enforcement resources, bears continue to be captured for the bile farming industry or killed for their meat and body parts. Every year, Animals Asia rescues wild-caught cubs, confiscated from smugglers en route to farms in Vietnam and neighbouring countries such as Laos and China.

In South Korea around 1,600 bears are held in an estimated 74 farms.  In sharp contrast, fewer than 20 bears can be found at Jirisan Restoration Center, located in Korea’s Jirisan National Park. 

It is estimated that in Laos around 100 bears remain caged in largely foreign-owned farms close to the Chinese border.


For more information on the status of bear farming see Free the Bears page “Bear Bile Farming – 2021 Status (opens in new window).

Jill Robinson founder of Animals Asia, has worked tirelessly for 25 years to end bear bile farming and to rescue the bears used and terribly abused in this cruel practice.  “To the Moon and Back” is her story.  You can see the official trailer for the film below.



Bear bile products (Dan Bennett – Flickr: product of Sun Bear Bile Extraction Operation in Mong La, Shan, Myanmar)

Bear bile farming industry put on notice by World Conservation Congress  (14 September 2012) — The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, the world’s largest and most important conservation event has passed a resolution addressing the issue of bear bile farming.

Animals Asia supplied much of the information for this page.  They work tirelessly to rescue bears from bear bile farms and deserve your support.  For more information on bear farming and the work of Animals Asia, click here.

For more on the situation in South Korea see International Aid for Korean Animals (IAKA) website.


Page updated 20 February 2022