Asiatic Black Bear Ursus thibetanus
© Y.J. Rey-Millet/WWF
Rudyard Kipling’s Baloo, the bear appears to be in trouble. Principally because human beings have taken a fancy for their bile that entails their killing. Bear bile is used in medicines in countries like China, Japan and South Korea. One gall bladder yields about 100-120 gm of bile. Bile is also used occasionally in Ayurvedic and Tibetan medicines. The trade is carried out both as whole gall bladders as well as bear bile extracts. Bear bile itself is traded in a frozen crystallised form. Gall bladders and bile extracts are often smuggled out as frozen food. Bear gall bladders cannot be easily distinguished from those of cows, sheep or pigs thus making detection extremely difficult. Bear paws, meat, and fat are also traded alongside bile, though the biggest threat to bears comes from the trade in bear bile. Bear bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

India has four species of bears : Asiatic Black, Sloth, Sun and Himalayan Brown Bear

All Indian Bear species are listed under Appendix I in CITES and Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. This provides complete protection to the species from hunting and trade.

The Asiatic Black Bear Ursus thibetanus, also known as the Moon Bear or White-chested Bear is a medium-sized species of bear, which occurs through much of southern Asia, Korea, northeastern China, the Russian far east and limited parts of Japan. It is classed by the IUCN as a vulnerable species, mostly due to deforestation and active hunting for its body parts. Hunting and international trade in these bears or their derivatives is prohibited, but still ongoing.

Asiatic Black Bears are kept in captivity in bear farms in China and are regularly abused for bile extraction.. Asiatic Black Bears, like other bear species are omnivorous animals who have a varied diet ranging from meat to fruit and are also known to scavenge on dead animals. In Jammu and Kashmir they have often come into conflict with humans.

The Sun Bear Helarctos malayanus is mostly distributed in South-East Asia. In India it occurs in the North-eastern region, though it is not common. It is the smallest of the eight bear species found across the globe. The Sun Bear is threatened by trade both for pets and to provide various products. IUCN lists the Sun Bear as Vulnerable.

The Sloth Bear Melursus ursinus is endemic to the Indian subcontinent and occurs in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. This particular species is the inspiration for the much loved character Baloo in Rudyard Kipling’s Junglebook. The Sloth Bear is unique among the bear species in being adapted to ‘myrmecophagy’, i.e to eating ants and termites, which form a large proportion of its diet. This bear species is either killed for their gall bladder, or until recently used in street exhibitions. Following a concerted campaign to stop the use of Sloth Bears in roadside dance shows, this spectacle has now been largely eliminated in India with the animals shifted to rescue centres. IUCN lists the Sloth Bear as Vulnerable.

The Brown Bear Ursus arctos is distinguished from the Himalayan Black Bear by its heavier built and brown coat. IUCN lists this species as one of Least Concern based on its globally stable population trend. However in much of its range in Asia (and India) it occurs patchily with little information about its population or connectivity of these scattered pockets. It is speculated that it is already extinct in Bhutan.

There have been several seizures of bear bile in recent times, the latest being a seizure in Dehra Dun in September 2010.

Sources :
World Society For the Protection of Animals report : The Bear Bile Business , 2006
IUCN Red List
Animals Asia Foundation
TRAFFIC India database
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