NATIONAL

Raising beers to better the lives of Korean bears

By Kirsty Taylor
  • Published : Jun 1, 2011 - 18:56
  • Updated : Jun 8, 2011 - 15:26

A Korea-brewed beer is the latest among a raft of campaigns aiming to help the country’s endangered Asiatic black bears.

A percentage of proceeds from the second batch of Moon Bear IPA to be released at a Seoul bar will go toward raising awareness of the plight of the bears, often called moon bears, which are farmed in Korea for their gall. 
The logo of Craftworks Taphouse and Bistro’s Moon Bear IPA. (Craftworks)

The popular Indian Pale Ale is being sold at Craftworks Taphouse and Bistro in Itaewon to support charity Little Bear Foundation’s education work on the issue.

Campaigners say that more than 1,000 bears are currently being kept for bile extraction in farms in South Korea, and it is estimated that there are around 100 bear farms here. The bile is taken from bears while they are still alive to be used for traditional medicines.
Picture taken by a campaigner of bears at a farm off the road from Jincheon to Cheonan. (Marcela Meidinger)

Little Bear Foundation is set to organize educational walks for underprivileged schoolchildren on the plight of moon bears, of which there are thought to be around just 18 remaining in the Korean wild, in Jirisan National Park.

The foundation is just one of many organizations campaigning for the welfare of the native Korean species.

Kelly Frances, co-founder of the charity Little Bear Foundation and founder of awareness-raising organization Bear Necessity Korea said both the money and awareness raised by the Moon Bear IPA would help the campaign. She said: “We want to teach children about the Asiatic bears so that they grow up having a very different view of the species.

“We want to change people’s attitudes towards the bears here.”

Meanwhile, a wider campaign is being spearheaded along with various other welfare groups including The Bear Truth and Green Korea United which have been campaigning to outlaw bear farming, which only remains legal here and in Vietnam and China.

A Bear Farm Management Bill was drafted by the Democratic Labor Party’s Heong Hee-deok along with other elected lawmakers to propose banning the practice last year.

Campaigners expect the bill to be heard by the Environment and Labor committee of the National Assembly this summer, before more hearings if it passes to a floor vote at the National Assembly.

In an email interview with The Korea Herald, Heong said: “The moon bear is internationally designated as an endangered species.

“In this context, the Korean government, especially the Ministry of Environment, has operated the work of species restoration. But, on the other side, the government has permitted farmers to collect gall bladder from bears. It is a contradictory system. Bears are wild animals, not livestock, but there are still many bear livestock farms in Korea.”

Heong criticized the conditions bears were kept in, as revealed by recent media reports. He said the government had recommended standards for bear farming, but many farms disregarded the advice.

“In extreme cases, some farmers have mistreated bears,” he added.

“Thanks to media reports politicians now know the realities of bear abuse. Because of this, many lawmakers are demanding to solve the problem. These people will not be ignored.”

He said that as the government had previously recommended that farmers breed bears to grow the population, it should now purchase the animals and set up an organization to protect them.

“Ultimately, the policy prohibiting bear breeding must be introduced,” he added in the interview last month.

The Bear Truth organization has gathered more than 2,300 signatures for its petition calling for the practice to be outlawed, and Heong pointed to a 2005 survey that found 87 percent of people questioned were against breeding bears for bile extraction.

The petition demands that the Korean government end bear bile farming and offer reasonable alternatives for farmers. It calls for a ban on sales of all bear products in Korea, and for those currently in circulation to be confiscated.

It also calls for the government to establish a bear sanctuary, and for farmed bears to be released, monitored and properly protected.

“We are urging the Korean Parliament to show its greatness by passing the law,’” said Bear Truth campaigner Matt Legried.

“The group is also encouraging the government and international sponsors to provide the bears currently being kept in farms with a better living environment through a sanctuary plan.”

Overcrowded cages, poor hygiene and ill health of the animals were some of the problems cited by animal rights activists.

The Bear Truth, which has raised 1 million won toward the cause, recently held an awareness-raising weekend at Hello Museum in Bundang’s Seongnam Art Center to teach children about Asiatic bears.

The Moon Bear IPA 2.0 Release Party, which will see the launch of the second batch of the charity brew, is to be held at Craftworks on June 9 at 6 p.m. with tickets costing 10,000 won in advance or 12,000 won at the door ― with one free IPA included in the ticket price. The launch of the first Moon Bear IPA brew raised 1.3 million won for the cause and organizers hope to top this figure at the upcoming event.

Raffle prizes are being provided by Craftworks, Itaewon bistro, Between and Sky Wellness Center. Advance tickets can be reserved by emailing craftworks.taphouse@gmail.com.

For more information go to bearnecessitykorea.com or thebeartruth.org.

By Kirsty Taylor (kirstyt@heraldcorp.com)