Conservation of Endangered Species

Monday, December 28, 2009, 07:49 PM

Over 250 members of the TCM community in China and across the world joined
together in Beijing in the last weekend of November for the "International
Symposium for the Conservation of Endangered Species and Traditional Chinese
Medicine". The symposium was sponsored by the American College of
Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) and Animals Asia Foundation, together
with the generous help of the Maria Norbury Foundation and Hauser Bears.

The idea for collaboration had originally been discussed between Lixin
Huang, President of the ACTCM, and our own US Director, Alice Ng - and it
was a dream come true to see this surge of support for the bears by such
respected people in the TCM community. Lixin herself made the feelings of
her College very clear when he talked together at the Asia Society in San
Francisco a few weeks ago. She said:

"Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) promotes harmony and healing. Using bear
bile and endangered species in TCM does not support harmony or healing. Many
products containing bear bile are not prescribed or recommended by TCM
doctors. We ask bear farmers not to use the excuse of traditional medicine
as a reason for farming bears, because we do not need bear bile to save
patient lives."

The gathering saw herbal vendors, practitioners, scholars, government
officials and policy-makers from the fields of TCM and environmental
conservation. Eighteen leaders from across China were selected by ACTCM to
address conservation policy, alternatives to the use of endangered species,
as well as specific medicinal species such as bears, pangolin and turtles.

As I said to Lixin when the conference began, I've waited nearly 25 years
for this moment - to see experts coming together with the common message
that animals should not end their lives to save ours. It was a true
celebration of the harmony between animal welfare and Chinese medicine. At
this point of course we are focusing on endangered species, but the debate
has begun to include all animals and this is the mission of Animals Asia to
reach that goal.

We sponsored three experts in their field to attend this conference, experts
with whom we have been working to address the use of, and alternatives to,
bear bile, the appalling cancers found in farmed bears, and the ongoing
research to find substitutes that are superior to the "real thing". All of
these experts support the call that bear farming should end.

Professor Liu Zheng Cai, a traditional Chinese medicine doctor with whom
we've been working for many years, was first. With his mix of serious
discussion and, occasionally, a wry sense of humour, he had the audience
captivated - especially at one point when he pointedly asked: "The bears
have cancer themselves, so how can they possibly cure it?!"

Chengdu pathologist Dr Wang Sheng Xian was next, showing the pathology of
the liver cancers and compromised gall bladders of bears we have loved and
lost. The slides flashed up on the screen showing the tumours found on each
bear - every one a number for Dr Wang's presentation purposes - but every
one a friend to us. Hope, Chengdu Truth, Mango, Xiao Hei, Saskia, Kiki,
Willow, Fuzzy and, of course No. 1 - Andrew - showing wave after wave of
cancers that have invaded and ended the lives of our bears.

Dr Feng Yibin from the University of Hong Kong School of Chinese Medicine
discussed his exciting research with the herb, coptis - funded by Frank Pong
Fai and his family and with matching funds from the Hong Kong Government. In
his paper, "Research Project on Alternative Drugs or Substitutes for Bear
Bile", Dr Feng demonstrated that his research was rapidly unveiling
something which was not just a substitute for bear bile - but better than
bear bile. He made clear that the usage of bear bile was a problem of
history, culture and economy and was rapidly becoming a political issue too.

Speaker after speaker followed, endorsing the message from our experts - one
professor even boldly claimed that there was no need to cling on to
traditional herbs if the synthetic preparations were proven to be equally
effective - "Why not introduce these into mainstream medicine too if they
can help to save the lives of endangered species?"

And it was all going so well until Professor Wang Liang Xin from the north
of China began his presentation and showed pictures of farmed animals,
including bears, while making the astonishing statement that it was fine to
consume wildlife, provided that they were farmed. This was perhaps not
surprising, given that we found out later that he was from Heilongjiang,
where a large number of bears are caged and victimised for the bear bile

I fumed and thought to myself, how is it that some people lost their
humanity to the point that they view farmed animals as "things" to be
exploited, and somehow different from their wild counterparts. It was too
harrowing to contemplate and I wondered if he had grandchildren who listened
to his views, and sadly reflected upon the next generation of his family
growing up to hate bears so much that they didn't care if they lay caged and
tortured until they died.

After his presentation, he passed me on the way out and I had to follow him
and ask him why. As we spoke, I saw a man with kind eyes who told me that
the bear farms in Heilongjiang produced their bile with no harm to the
animals concerned. He really believed it was true. Thank goodness for Toby
(our Director of External Affairs) who had joined us - he picked up the
reigns, and explained in rapid and measured Chinese about the methods of
farming and bile extraction, which are extremely painful and compromising to
the bears' health.

And with that, in a moment of time when everything changed, Professor Wang
admitted it must be true, nodding sadly with the realisation. He added
thoughtfully that he would like to think of ideas to introduce education
programmes to help people understand that they must not treat bears like
this. This was an issue of education not money - changing the mindset and
persuading farmers that they could not treat animals in this way.

And with that I felt a huge weight taken away - here was an intelligent,
respected professor with a lifelong belief that farming animals of any
species was fine, and now his mind was changing fast.

Lixin Huang then took the stage and asked all in the audience to sign an
open letter to bring a "healthier attitude" to TCM practitioners - which
broadly meant bringing exploitation to an end.

At the end of the first day, a student of TCM shyly approached us and held
up a slogan he had drawn after hearing the presentations on bear farming.
His simple sign, "Save the Bears", said it all about the growing support
within the TCM community for bringing bear farming to an end.

And, before leaving the conference, Professor Wang Liang Xin approached Toby
again asking if he could email him and discuss more ideas to help the bears
- and I knew that the message of "healing without harm" will one day

Here's a pic taken at the symposium of Dr Wang, Dave our Animal Welfare
Director, myself, Professor Liu, Professor Feng Yibin and Rainbow Zhu Ke,
our China PR and Education Manager.

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