Bear Here, Bear There

Asiatic black bear designated as a natural monument in Korea.

     It seems that bears are a sort of big issue in Thunder Bay. People often talk about a bear or how to avoid a bear when we meet one in reality. A last week, a notice with the photo of a bear was posted on the board in my residence. It warned that a bear was witnessed around the school and thus students had to be watchful. Also, a few days ago, I heard that bears appeared in the area where one of my classmates lives. It was said that policemen were called to the scene where bears appeared. I read a news article, and listened to the news about that from the radio as well. I would like to see a bear in person, take a picture of it, and brag to my family and friends in Korea that how nature-friendly the place I live is. A dear is not an enough compelling or fascinating material to boast of where I live.

     Seeing bears in person is new to me because I have never ever seen bears in person other than ones at a zoo. Of course, there are bears in Korea as well. But most of them are bred in cages. It is not easy to find them in forests or mountains because the number of bears inhabiting Korea has sharply decreased. According to a survey in 2009, there are less than endangered 20 Asiatic black bears and about 1000 bears which are being bred in Korea. An Asiatic black bear's unique characteristic is its V-shaped mark on its chest. It has been designated as a natural monument, and protected by law. So, it is legally prohibited to hunt Asiatic black bears. To preserve the species, sometimes, food is dropped from the air by helicopter for them inhabiting deep mountains.

     In Asia, bear bile is used in traditional medicine and folk remedies. It is said that it has good medical benefits to treating many illnesses including fever, liver diseases, convulsions, diabetes, and heart diseases. So the bear bile is traded very expensively and a lot of illegal means are involved in the process of trading bear bile. This is very rampant in many Asian countries. Korea is not an exception to such a craze about bear bile although it is not as rampant as it was. The bears who are farmed are usually for bear bile and meat. If not Asiatic black bear which is protected as a natural monument, farming bears in Korea is not prohibited. Rather, Korea allowed bear farming as a way of increasing the income of farmers in the 1980s and even imported many baby bears from overseas to re-export them to other Asian countries after breeding. It was a profitable business at that time.

     Now, however, many environmental organizations in Korea insist that the bear farming be stopped, and the government buy all the bears in breeding from farmers and manage them. The organizations’ argument is that there are many cruelties to bears for getting bile and meat, and a bunch of irregularities have been happening regarding the bear farming and the trade of bear bile. They also contend that it speeds up the endangerment of Asiatic black bear as people illegally hunt them. The dubious medical benefits of bile is their another major argument. They insist by quoting a few authoritative research results that the bile of the bear bred in an iron cage over 10 years does not have as much medical benefits as we thought.

     It seems that a consensus about banning on bear farming has been formed to some extent between civil organizations and lawmakers. Last year, some lawmakers prepared the draft of law prohibiting bear farming, acknowledging bear farming has caused many problems. But the problem is that putting the law into effect requires lots of money. According to the government’s calculation, buying and managing them need a budget of about $26 million. For this reason, the government is opposing the bill by saying that it does not have an enough budget to buy bears and manage them afterwards. This bill is still being reviewed in the national assembly.