An Inside Look At China's Raging Battle Over Bear Bile Harvesting

Many Chinese are convinced that the bile produced by a bear's digestion process has strong medicinal benefits. One of the biggest black bear breeding farms is set to be quoted on the stock exchange. But first, they let reporters and animal rights

Chinese bear bile operations wanted to show they provided better conditions than these in Myanmar (Soggydan)
Chinese bear bile operations wanted to show they provided better conditions than these in Myanmar (Soggydan)
Han Yuting and Sun Yue

BEIJING – Are you bullish – or squeamish -- on Chinese black bears? Guizhen Hall, a large black bear breeding farm in Fujian Province in southeast China, is seeking an IPO listing on the A-share Chinese stock exchange. The news has set off widespread criticism, as the bears are bred for their bile, which is used in medicines.

Following an avalanche of media flack, Guizhen Hall opened its door to allow invited Chinese media and animal protection groups to visit the farm. The media tours on both days were conducted by Guizhen staff, who followed a strictly restricted route and allowed no questions. The farm situated in a rural hilly area, currently houses approximately 400 bears and boasts an annual turnover of roughly 100 million RMB ($15.8 million).

The journalists first visited the free activity yard. Surrounded by a tall wall and equipped with ladders, parallel bars and swings, the place is laid out like a bear playground. The next part of the tour was far less amusing, as journalists were shown how Guizhen staff "harvest" the bears for their bile. Visitors wearing simple sterile clothing were allowed in by groups of 10 "in order not to disturb the animals," according to the farm.

The room contains a network of cages. Bears were led from larger, group cages into small individual ones, each containing a basin of food. Once the animal began to eat, the staff of the farm simultaneously used sterile cotton swabs to disinfect the bear's abdomen and insert an 8-centimeter round-headed tube into a fistula, an artificial opening for bile drainage. A cup was soon filled up with the bear's bile, about 150 milliliters in quantity, while the bear seemed to continue eating unconcerned.

The staff pointed out that only bears that are older than 36 months and over 100 kilograms are subject to bile extraction. The drainage is conducted twice daily, in the morning and in the evening. The bears produce the bile secretion only when they are eating, according to the staff.

Throughout the process, which lasts just about one minute, the bears seem to behave calmly – a bit too calmly, some reporters suggested. During the press conference that followed the first day's visit, Guizhen representatives were joined by four experts in the traditional Chinese medicine field, including a researcher of the Strategic Research Department of Ministry of Science and Technology. Their responses were somehow quite unsatisfactory and unconvincing.

Who's a bear?

When asked how they, the medical experts, are sure that those domesticated bears do not suffer from their fistula wound, Zhang Chikwan, Guizhen's director replied: "You are not a bear. How do you know the bear is suffering?" Zhang insisted. "The fistula hole is like the pierced ears of women. Do women feel any pain wearing earrings?"

Sun Quanhui, the Chinese project coordinator from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), was only partly convinced. "Guizhen's willingness to communicate with the public is worthy of recognition. But it's not enough to have a couple of open days to observe, without the participation of real experts," Sun said.

According to the IPO application material, Guizhen intends to raise funds so as to expand its current 400-bear breeding population to 1200 and increase its production of bear bile powder, which sells for about $18 per gram. Quite a number of Chinese people believe bear bile has anti-inflammation and detoxification properties. It is commonly used for liver related disease. But many experts of Chinese medicine claim that its effectiveness is exaggerated, and it can certainly be replaced by other herbs or synthetic drugs.

Currently, it is reported that there are about 12,000 farmed bears in various regions. According to a report by the Asian Animal Foundation, an animal welfare group, the bears suffer lasting effects from the bile harvesting treatment. The Foundation has rescued 277 bears, 181 of which were subject to live bile draining. Of those, 165 showed harmful symptoms such as cholecystitis, hernia, visceral cyst and gallstones. The group says many of the bears also develop liver cancer.

Human society has long bid farewell to following the rules of the jungle and now respects the dignity of other lives too. The existence of "Live bear bile draining" is a holdover from the era of the jungle, and its collection should be banned along with tiger bone and tiger penis, rhino horn, and the musk of the musk ox. One can judge whether or not China is regarded as a civilized country by the way the Chinese authorities deal with such affairs. If Guizhen is to succeed in its IPO, it will encourage even more companies to invest in harming animals and stimulate even more unscrupulous business practices.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - soggydan

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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