Despite their size, bears are great runners, swimmers, and climbers. They are very playful (especially cubs) and intelligent mammals and have great sense of sight, smell, and hearing, as well as good memories, and are said to have fantastic navigational skills; all of which are useful for hunting and also for detecting predators; Although besides other bears, and in some parts of the world, tigers, bears don’t really have to worry about wild predators. Their main predators are humans.
Male bears do not stay with the females after mating, so mother bears raise and discipline their cubs and teach them how to hunt and survive until they are ready to leave their mother and fend for themselves. Although sibling may stay together for a while, bears don’t stay with their family, they are solitary animals, so they go off on their own until ready to mate.
Much like humans, mother bears are very loving and protective of their cubs. Bears grieve the loss of their young and siblings, and orphaned cubs are known to cry for their mothers for several weeks. As cubs are born blind with no teeth or fur, they are very reliant on their mother.
A bear’s den/shelter can be a cave, burrow, and for some species, a tree nest. Bears are omnivores, so they eat a meat and plant diet which will vary depending on where they live, but can include seals, walrus, salmon, deer, elk, ants, termites, insects, nuts, berries, bamboo, sap, branches, and roots. They will also eat other large animal carcases that they come across and have been known to scavenge through garbage and scraps if desperate for a feed.
Those who live in cold climates go into a deep sleep (similar to hibernation) throughout winter when their food sources are low. In the lead up to hibernation they will eat twice as much food in order to put on weight. And when in winter sleep they don’t wake up to eat, drink, or even urinate or defecate!
Different species of bears are located all around the world:
- American Black Bears: North America and Mexico
- Asian Black Bears: South East Asia and Far East Russia
- Brown Bears: North America, Asia, and Europe
- Panda Bears: Western China
- Polar Bears: Arctic Region including Alaska and Canada
- Sloth Bears: South East Asia
- Spectacled Bears: South America
- Sun Bears: South East Asia
The Bad News
Bears Used for Medicine
There is no medical or scientific evidence to support animal parts in medicine having any healing benefit, but people still believe they can assist with ailments and even cure diseases.
Bear Bile farms
As I write this, thousands of wild moon bears, also known as Asiatic black bears, are living the nightmare of being imprisoned in bear bile farms across China and Vietnam.
Bears are caught from the wild or bred on farms purely to have their bile drained for humans to use. Despite having effective medicines, both herbal and synthetic available (and much cheaper), bear bile is used in Chinese medicine and even some household products in asian countries including China and Vietnam. There is no proof that bear bile in medicine has any medical benefit, but people believe it can assist with liver ailments and can relieve sore eyes.
Bears on bear bile farms are kept in ridiculously small cages (also known as ‘crush cages’) so that they cannot move, and are restricted to lying flat on their back. They have permanently implanted tubes in their abdomen in which bile is extracted (milked) up to twice a day. It is extremely painful for the bears who are not given pain relief for the cruel techniques used, and they suffer from untreated infected abdominal wounds.
As well as the physical injuries that bears on bear bile farms endure, most bears are malnutritioned, dehydrated, and mentally broken. They have diseases and tumours, and as they are left untreated, the bears suffer, and even die from curable ailments. Unfortunately, the bears that die early are the lucky ones, as the surviving bears live in these cruel conditions 24 hours a day for their entire lives. They are never able to stand, breathe fresh air, or see sunlight.
It is hard to imagine living like this for a few minutes or hours, so try to imagine bear cubs being born into this environment, or stolen from the wild, living like this for their lifetime. They can be kept in cages and milked for up to 30 years! Some bears are so desperate to escape the torture they try to get free from their shackles by gnawing off their own paws, and even attempt suicide. Media in China have reported on a case where a mother bear was able to break free from her cage. She strangled her cub to save it from a life of torture and then ended her own life by slamming head first into a concrete wall!
Bears Used for Entertainment
Bears are used to make money for people by using them for entertaining. They may be dancing on their hind legs for audiences, or fighting for their lives in front of big crowds. Either way, the bears are trained brutally, treated cruelly, and live in tiny cages for their entire lives whenever they’re not performing.
Bears used in circuses are captured young from the wild and forced to live as prisoners and endure training so that they can perform in travelling circuses. Some don’t survive the trauma of being taken away from their family and forced to survive in terrible conditions with little care and nourishment, and if you read on you will realise they may be the lucky ones.
The life of a circus bear is not fun like it may appear. They are intelligent social animals and don’t enjoy clowning around for people’s amusement. Circus bears perform because they are scared not to. They know they will be punished if they don’t do the tricks their trainers demand.
Wearing clothes, riding bikes, walking on tight ropes, performing handstands, and balancing on balls may be fun for humans, but is not natural for a bear. In Russia, brown bears are even trained to skate and play ice hockey for a ‘Bears on Ice’ tour. Travelling circus bears are also popular in the US.
A circus bear’s life involves continually being transported around on trucks or trailers, confined to small unhygienic cages, where they eat, sleep, and live whenever they’re not training or performing. It is said that this can be approximately 90% of the time. They have little protection from the outside elements, and can be left in extreme heat or cold, and living in their own waste, for hours and even days at a time without adequate water or food.
As well as being neglected and lonely, circus bears can be malnourished, mentally traumatised, and lacking proper veterinary care. They often have their claws removed, and are forced to wear constricting muzzles, sometimes their teeth are also broken to make it safer for their trainers to handle them. The bears can also suffer from muscle and tendon injuries from being confined in small cages (and from the unnatural tricks they perform).
Their mental trauma can be seen in behaviour such as swaying and head rocking, circling and pacing, chewing on cage bars, and self harming including biting themselves and banging their heads on their cages. It’s heartbreaking! No animal should have to suffer this way, especially not for human entertainment.
The training that the bears endure is cruel and involves being beaten in the face and legs with metal rods if they don’t perform. They are also starved so that food can be used to encourage them to do tricks on demand. Trainers will sometimes go to extreme measures to force the bears to stay walking on their back legs for long periods of time. They burn the front paws of the bears so that it hurts to stand on them, which forces them to walk on the back legs.
It has been documented that captive circus bears have mauled and killed their trainers and tried to escape at every opportunity. There have even been instances where spectators have been attacked and killed. If the bears did escape they wouldn’t have much chance of surviving in the wild, as they were taken from their mother before she taught them the survival skills they need.
Humans have no right to treat bears or any animals this way. You can make a difference and save bears from this suffering by refusing to attend animal circuses. There are plenty of amazing circus shows that don’t use trained animals for profit.
In India Sloth Bears have been trained as ‘Dancing’ bears for hundreds of years, and used to entertain crowds of locals and tourists for money in the streets of India. Although it sounds very exciting to see a bear dancing, for the bears it is a life of pain and misery.
The bears are brutally taken from their mothers by poachers while they are still cubs. And as mother bears are so protective, in most cases they are killed whilst trying to protect their cubs. After the cubs have been caught, their captors smuggle the bears to their trainers/handlers to use as dancing slaves for income.
Bear handlers burn a hole through the bear’s nose with a red hot needle and force a rope though it to use as a leash. They are not given any pain relief, and once the rope is secured it is never taken out unless it’s replaced with chains. Sometimes the bears teeth are smashed out with metal rods, or filed down, and their claws cut or filed right down to make them easier to handle.
It’s such a sad life for a Dancing Bear. To train the bears to dance on command, their handlers pull up on their nose ropes and use other methods such as beating their front legs to force them to stand on their hind legs, or getting the bears to walk over hot coals or heated metal so that they have no choice but to ‘dance’ around on their hind legs. Eventually the bears will follow commands or start dancing as soon as they hear the music, as they know that if they don’t dance they will feel pain.
Dancing bears are traumatised from the entire experience, and when not dancing can be seen swaying or pacing, and even self harming. The bears are not kept or fed well by their handlers, as they cannot afford the right care for them. If you are on holiday and see a dancing bear please don’t give their handler any money. The cycle must stop!
It’s hard to believe that anyone would want to watch a bear fighting dogs, but although it is illegal, and the numbers have dropped over the years, this ‘blood sport’ is still an attraction for fans in rural Pakistan. People in their hundreds gather to watch bear baiting shows as a barbaric form of human entertainment for profit.
The bears used for bear baiting shows are captured as young cubs from the wild and kept as slaves to be used to make money. As if that wasn’t cruel enough, in order to ensure the bears are manageable for their captors, and have barely any chance to defend themselves during the show, their claws are filed or removed, and teeth will either be broken, filed down, or removed as well; all without the aid of any anaesthetic or pain relief. They also have a ring forced through their nose in order to attach a rope and muzzle.
When it’s time for a bear baiting show to begin, the bear is forced into the middle of the arena and the rope attached to the bear’s nose/muzzle is tied to a post so that it can’t escape. Then a couple of trained fighting dogs are unleashed, and they proceed to viciously attack the bear who has no way to defend itself other than to try to hit and throw the dogs away. This must be so scary and traumatic for the bears, not to mention the physical pain and suffering they are forced to endure.
The fights only go for a few minutes, and are always stopped before any animal dies to ensure they will survive to fight again, over-and-over for several years, and to make more and more money for their captors. An imprisoned bear baiting bear will continue to be forced into fights until it passes away from injury or illness. The dogs involved have no choice but to fight, and can also get injured during the battles.
How sad and painful are the lives of these innocent bears? They know nothing of happiness and love, only torture and misery. It doesn’t matter if they win or lose the fight, as the outcome is grim either way. Please don’t support bear baiting in any way, and if you see any illegal blood sports of any kind, please report them to your local police.
What You Can Do To Help
- Don’t purchase products that contain bear bile
- Don’t support or attend entertainment shows that use trained bears
- Support World Animal Protection’s efforts (formerly WSPA) to rescue and relocate imprisoned bears to sanctuaries: http://www.worldanimalprotection.org.au/our-work/animals-in-the-wild/bear-sancturies#sthash.mOVpMjFY.dpuf
- Support Animals Asia’s bear rescue centres: https://www.animalsasia.org//intl/our-work/end-bear-bile-farming/what-we-do/bear-sanctuaries/
- Support Internaional Animal Rescue’s ‘Dancing Bear Rescue’ efforts and sanctuary www.internationalanimalrescue.org/dancing-bear-rescue