For the Conservation Curious

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When Should Traditions that Use Animals and Their Parts End? July 16, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 2:55 PM

I read two stories late last week that got me thinking about this question: when should traditions like the use of bear, tiger, and rhino parts for “traditional” medicine end? When is technology good enough to show that other methods are more efficacious and much less inhumane? Or is peer pressure and a better understanding of the suffering of “lesser” mammals and other wildlife what will truly end such practices?

The first story I read about was from a National Geographic posted on July 12, 2018 about how bear bile farms in Asia are closing down – and then killing the bears or letting them starve to death – due to reduced demand, and therefore reduced prices for, farmed bear bile. Bear bile is used as a traditional Asian medicine for things like liver disease and cancer. However, synthetic drugs have taken the place of much of that, leaving bear bile “farmers” with a glut of product and dearth of customers.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Some of the farms are trying to get the bears to rescue centers, but with more than 1,000 captive bears in bile farms, the chances are that not all will be so lucky. Many will end up as bear paw soup or as trinkets for good luck or good health.

So I have this conflicting knot in my stomach about this. While I think it is wonderful that fewer people are using bear bile for “medicinal” purposes, and cross my fingers for the day when no bears (wild caught or otherwise) are kept in cages to have their bile extracted or their gallbladders harvested, the path from today to that future could be paved with hundreds, if not thousands, of dead bears. I hope that more organizations like “Free the Bears” step in to give a new home to these well-deserving bears!

The second story I read, on on July 13, discussed what appears to be the first intentional killing of a blue whale in 40 years. An Icelandic whaling vessel was caught in the act, and they say they did nothing wrong because the whale was a hybrid, not a true blue whale, which is endangered and illegal to kill. Whale experts who have seen photos of the whale say that it is indeed a blue whale.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of whether or not it is a blue whale that was killed, it makes me think of the larger question of “Should whales (and other cetaceans like dolphins) be killed for food by indigenous peoples? When I was in Iceland this past fall I was shocked and a bit turned off by the restaurant menus I saw that had whale on the menu (I didn’t eat at those places, by the way. Nor any place that served puffin!). While I understand that before world commerce was a big thing, people in Iceland had to eat whatever they could find / hunt / fish on and near the islands, which didn’t leave them with many choices.

But in today’s age, when there are many more choices, and so much more knowledge related to how intelligent cetaceans are, when does eating these animals become too old school? As tourism continues to build in Iceland, will that do it? As younger generations deem those traditions as outdated, will it end then? I wonder…

*This blog post is dedicated to Mark C. who gave me a gentle kick in the butt to start blogging again. Thanks, Mark!