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Posted : 2013-09-04 19:36
Updated : 2013-09-04 19:36

Animal rights activist fights to stop bear bile tourism

Jill Robinson

By Kim Se-jeong


Jill Robinson, an animal rights activist and the founder of Animals Asia, called on Korean tourists to China to stop purchasing bear bile.

"You can enjoy beautiful China, but don't visit bear farms," Robinson said in a recent interview.

She also asked tourist agencies for help. Korean tourists are loyal consumers of bear bile owing to its supposed health benefits.

The activist, however, said the benefits are groundless.

"In China, in particular, 100 percent of any bear with their bile extracted have contaminated bile. We see bile has blood, urine, feces, pus, cancer and bacteria cells."

Her Animals Asia sanctuary in Chengdu and Tam Dao National Park in Vietnam has rescued 400 bears.

The activist flew in from Hong Kong, where Animals Asia's headquarters is located, to Seoul to meet with Toby Zhang, Animals Asia's external affairs director, to find local supporters and partners for its campaign to end bear farming in China.

She says contamination is not the only reason. Although bear farming is legal in China, farmers operate their bear farms under totally illegal conditions."

She and her colleagues work closely with the Chinese government and the farmers in closing down the farms. They are scattered throughout the country with a concentration in northeast China.

The organization also raises funds to compensate farmers whose facilities have shut down. No compensation from the Chinese government is available, "and we found this is the only way to end the operation of the farms."

Korea has approximately 1,000 bears. Bile extraction is illegal but as long as a bear is 10 years old, it can be slaughtered for the whole gall bladder. Importing bile is illegal.

The current point of contention is ending domestic bear farming.

In March this year, Rep. Chang Han-na of the main opposition Democratic United Party proposed a bill requiring the government to compensate domestic bear farmers for the shutdown of their farms.

However, the proposal is making little progress as there is little room for compensation in the budget.

Robinson started her campaign to protect bears in 1993 when she was invited to see a bear farm.

"It was in China. I had a bear that reached out to me. I stupidly reached out to her. Now, I know how to behave with bears that are unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Her paw squeezed my hand. One can only say that it was a message between us. This one bear started the campaign of rescuing bears in Vietnam and China and a dream of ending bear farming."

For those who'd like to get involved, visit www.animalsasia.org.


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