The three tractor-trailer containers sat in a row, divided with metal partitions into 19 tiny, sweltering cells.
Massive claws and furry black noses poked between the iron bars: 19 rare Asiatic moon bears awaiting their next gall bladder milking. Their bile is a coveted traditional medicine ingredient used to treat everything from hemorrhoids to epilepsy.
Some paced nervously inside the cages, panting and foaming at the mouth with wild bloodshot eyes. Others laid in their urine and feces, resting on the cool concrete floor. They devoured the bananas and chunks of watermelon - including the rinds - offered to them, a welcome treat from their usual diet of rice gruel.
AP Photo - Asiatic moon bear pokes from a trailer in a farm in Khanh Binh village, Tan Uyen, Binh Duong province, Vietnam, Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. 19 rare Asiatic moon bears awaiting their next gall bladder milking. These bears were found this way on an illegal Taiwanese-owned operation in southern Vietnam.
The bears were found at an illegal Taiwanese-owned operation in southern Vietnam. On Friday, four days after being hoisted onto tractor trailers and driven 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometers) north, they reached a new home with grass and tire swings at a rescue center about two hours outside of Hanoi, the capital.
The newly rescued bears - two of them missing limbs and one blind - were sedated and removed one-by-one from their tiny cages Friday at Tam Dao National Park. They are joining 29 bears already at the rescue center.
Ultrasound tests found evidence of thickened gall bladders, a telltale sign of milking, said Animals Asia veterinarian Heather Bacon. She said some may need to have the organ removed because of extensive damage.
Many of the black bears, some standing 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall on their hind legs and weighing 330 pounds (150 kilograms), have been caged since being snatched from the wild as cubs up to seven years ago, said Tuan Bendixsen of Animals Asia Foundation in Vietnam, which rescued the bears this week.
Bear bile has been used for thousands of years in Asia to treat fevers, pain, inflammation and many other ailments. In the 1980s, China began promoting bear farms as a way to discourage poaching. The bears were housed in small cages, and the green bitter fluid was sucked from their gall bladders using crude catheters, sometimes creating pus-filled abscesses or internal bile leakage. Many bears die slowly from infections or liver ailments, including cancer.
The idea caught on in Vietnam and elsewhere as demand grew alongside the region's increasing wealth. Bear bile products are also illegally smuggled into Chinatowns worldwide. An informal survey by the World Society for the Protection of Animals found 75 percent of stores visited in Japan selling bear bile products, followed by 42 percent in South Korea. In the U.S. and Canada, it was about 15 percent.
19 bears rescued from bear bile farm in Vietnam - Business Wire - SunHerald.com