Reading Time: 3 minutes Stephen Fry is among the celebrities who have placed their support behind the cause. Credit: Keith Morris / Hay Ffotos / Alamy Stock
Reading Time: 3 minutes

A host of high-profile names are joining forces in an effort to protect the endangered Asiatic black bear (aka moon bear). The species is being pushed to the brink of extinction in Vietnam due to bear bile farming – a trade purportedly rife with animal cruelty. 

Sir Paul McCartney, Dame Judi Dench, Stephen Fry, Slash, Russell Crowe, Ricky Gervais, Alicia Silverstone, Mayim Bialik, William Shatner, Alan Cumming, Kesha and Joaquin Phoenix are among those pushing to rescue the remaining bears trapped in Vietnamese bile farms. 

What is bear bile farming?

Bear bile farming keeps moon bears captive in order to extract bile from their gallbladders. It began in Asia in the 1980s with the view of using it for medicinal purposes, according to animal protection charity Animals Asia. 

And it does come with benefits, the non-profit clarifies. The bile contains high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), which can be used to treat liver and gallbladder afflictions in humans. 

But obtaining the substance comes at a brutal cost. The trade involves keeping bears in cramped cages and often unhygienic conditions. The extraction process is invasive and results in “unimaginable physical and psychological suffering,” Animals Asia adds. 

Some bears must endure the “free drip” method, whereby a hole is created in the animal’s gallbladder and repeatedly reopened. Others undergo extraction of the bile through a four-inch needle. 

Warning: this slideshow contains distressing images

Is bear bile farming legal?

Bear bile farming was outlawed in Vietnam in 1992. But legal loopholes have allowed producers to continue their operations. Animals are frequently poached from the wild to be used for their bile, which has shaken wild moon bear populations. They are now on the endangered species list. 

In 2017, after years of rallying, the Vietnamese government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Animals Asia. The agreement assigned Animals Asia as its partner in shutting down the trade for good.

The charity is working to rescue the remaining moon bears in Vietnam – it predicts there are around 400 left on Vietnamese farms. However, around 12,000 bears are still living on bile farms across Asia, the organization states.

The rescue mission

Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre in Tam Dao is almost at full capacity, following the recent rescue of its 651st bear. Many of the rescues were young adults (five years or younger) or cubs, who were just a few months’ old. 

Now, the organization is building a second facility to accommodate the next group of rescued animals. This 12-hectare sanctuary will be located in the Bach Ma National Park in central Vietnam. The charity hopes to save all of Vietnam’s captive moon bears from bile farms by 2026. 

Moon bears living in an animal sanctuary in Vietnam after being rescued from bile farms

Celebrity support

Animals Asia launched a petition to raise awareness of the issue, which includes a pledge to “raise your paw for the moon bear.”

Broadcaster and actor, Fry, has placed his support behind the campaign. “The beautiful moon bear is at risk of becoming extinct in Vietnam if we don’t do something to save them. They have been cruelly farmed for their bile, often ripped from their mothers in the wild when they were just baby cubs,” he said in a statement sent to PBN

Actor Dench, also a signatory of the pledge, said she is “proud” to be a part of the effort, which is a “crucial step” in saving the species and “giving back the life stolen from hundreds of bears left in bile farms.”

She commented: “​​Animals Asia has pledged to rescue every last bear from every last bile farm across Vietnam. So I’m pledging my support, and I’m hoping thousands more will pledge their support as well.  Join me. Raise your paw for the moon bear, to finally end bear bile farming in Vietnam, and ensure that no bear is left behind.”

Those interested can find the petition and pledge here. 

Jemima Webber

Jemima is the News Writer for Plant Based News. She was previously Senior Editor for another vegan media outlet, and is currently studying a Bachelor of Psychological Science. Originally from Australia, Jemima now lives in Utrecht in the Netherlands with her dog Levi, and loves writing music in her free time.