Bear bile has been used in traditional Asian medicine for thousands of years. It contains high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid UDCA known to be useful for treating liver and gall bladder conditions. However, there are now many readily available herbal and synthetic alternatives with the same medicinal properties. In the past bear bile would be obtained by hunting bears in the wild and killing them to remove their gall bladder. It would have been a particularly rare and prized ingredient at the time used sparingly for specific medical conditions.
Inside the Disturbing World of Bear-Bile Farming
Ending the bear bile industry | World Animal Protection
Bears can pry open car doors, dig up tree stumps, and take on a tiger. The practice involves locking bears in tiny cages for repeated sessions of painful, invasive extraction of their bile. National Geographic got an inside look at activists from Free the Bears , an Australia-based organization, rescuing bears in Laos from the bile and pet trades, as well as from poachers seeking to kill the animals to sell their claws and other body parts. The bear bile industry targets mostly sun bears and Asiatic black bears, also known as moon bears, which both get their names from the tuft of white hair on their chests.
Is the end of 'house of horror' bear bile factories in sight?
Bile bears , sometimes called battery bears , are bears kept in captivity to harvest their bile , a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder , which is used by some traditional Asian medicine practitioners. The bear species most commonly farmed for bile is the Asiatic black bear Ursus thibetanus ,  although the sun bear Helarctos malayanus , brown bear Ursus arctos and every other species are also used the only exception being the Giant Panda which does not produce UDCA. The bile can be harvested using several techniques, all of which require some degree of surgery, and may leave a permanent fistula or inserted catheter.
After decades of activism against bear bile farms, a Chinese pharmaceutical company has announced it is developing a synthetic alternative. If we grant bears any modicum of intelligence or emotional experience, if we grant them the capacity to suffer pain or mental anguish, then bear bile farming — which houses bears in tiny cages for the breadth of their life in order to repeatedly extract their bile — poses a whole slew of ethical questions. Indeed, for decades activists have been campaigning to stop the trade, which extracts bear bile for use in Chinese medicine. But now, the industry that profits from it may succeed in doing it for them. Last year, Kaibao Pharmaceuticals, which supplies around half of the bear bile consumed in China , said it plans to develop a synthetic alternative to the popular curative using government funding.