MONEY BEAR, the first in the Nick Tanner series, throws a harsh spotlight on the cruel but highly lucrative underworld of Bear gallbladder poaching. A single gallbladder that might earn a poacher a couple hundred dollars in the U.S. can reportedly go for $3000 in China.
Why? Well, for thousands of years Traditional Chinese Medicine has valued bear bile as a remedy for a variety of ills, mostly centering around the liver. And in fact, the key ingredient in the bile, called ursodeoxycholic acid, has been medically proven to help dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease. And unfortunately for bears, their bile contains far greater amounts of UDCA than cows, pigs, or any other more readily available source.
Which led to the wholesale slaughter of the Asiatic Black Bear, also known as the Moon Bear, the Sun Bear, and the Brown Bear. As the wild bear supply was depleted in Asia, bear farms were created. There, bears are crammed into cages that allow absolutely no movement—some for their entire lives—with stents draining bile from their gallbladder. I’d post a photo of that, but I don’t want you to have to look at it, and I don’t want to see it again myself. Instead, I’ve included a photo of a gallbladder. Not visually exciting, but illustrative.
In spite of bear farms, customers tend to believe the gallbladders from wild bear are more potent. And so, in America, where black bears are still plentiful, hunters have enthusiastically obliged. While it is legal in many states to harvest and sell a bear’s gallbladder, it is 100% illegal to ship it overseas. Which, as you can guess, doesn’t stop it from happening. A lot.