Metabolic derangements and reduced survival of bile-extracted Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus)

Monica Kaho Herkules Bando, O Lynne Nelson, Clark Kogan, Rance Sellon, Michelle Wiest, Heather J Bacon, Mandala Hunter-Ishikawa, Wendy Leadbeater, Koji Yamazaki, Yipeng Jin, Takeshi Komatsu, David McGeachy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Across China and Southeast Asia, an estimated 17,000 bears are currently farmed for bile, primarily for traditional medicines. Depending on country, bile is extracted daily via transabdominal gallbladder fistulas, indwelling catheters, or needle aspiration. Despite claims that bears do not develop adverse effects from bile extraction, health issues identified in bears removed from bile farms include bile-extraction site infections, abdominal hernias, peritonitis, cholecystitis, hepatic neoplasia, cardiac disease, skeletal abnormalities, and abnormal behaviors. We present a comprehensive assessment of the effects of bile farming by comparing serum biochemical and hematological values of bears from farms that were bile-extracted (BE) and bears from farms not bile-extracted (FNE) with bears from non-farm captive (ZOO) and free-range (FR) environments. We hypothesized BE bears would have significant laboratory abnormalities compared to all non-extracted bear groups. We also hypothesized BE bears would have reduced long-term survival compared to FNE bears despite removal from farms.

RESULTS: BE bears exhibited the highest values and greatest variation (on a population level) in laboratory parameters compared to all non-extracted bear groups particularly for alanine transaminase, gamma glutamyltransferase (GGT), total bilirubin (TBIL), alkaline phosphatase (ALKP), blood urea nitrogen, creatinine (CREA), and total white blood cell count. Significant differences were detected between bear groups when accounting for season, sex, and/or age. BE bears exhibited greater mean serum GGT compared to all non-extracted bear groups, and the odds of having elevated TBIL were 7.3 times greater for BE bears, consistent with hepatobiliary disease. Biochemical parameter elevations in BE bears persisted up to 14 years post-rescue, consistent with long-term effects of bile-extraction. BE bears that arrived with elevated CREA and ALKP had median survival times of 1 and 4 years respectively, and regardless of laboratory abnormalities, BE bears had significantly shorter survival times compared to FNE bears.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results provide strong evidence that bile extraction practices not only represent a temporary constraint for bears' welfare, but confer distinct long-term adverse health consequences. Routine laboratory panels may be insensitive to detect the extent of underlying illness in BE bears as these bears have significantly reduced survival regardless of biochemical assessment compared to FNE bears.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263
JournalBMC Veterinary Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2019


  • Asiatic black bear
  • Bear bile farming
  • Bile-extraction
  • Biochemistry
  • Hematology
  • Survival
  • Ursus thibetanus


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