The Wooly Mammoth in the Room.

After reading so much recently about how we treat each other and how we treat  animals nothing surprises me anymore. I have an inability to be surprised. I knew when I became a vegan (2012) that I shouldn’t be wearing wool. I must admit I wasn’t 100% sure why and I fear most people aren’t. But now I know.

Tragically I have started watching ‘sex and the city’ for the third time all the way through. I am disappointed in my lack of willpower but in a way it has opened my eyes to how atrocious our society has become. Let’s put aside the fact that 1 out of every 8th person in the world is chronically undernourished and yet the developed world is obsessed with fashion, but let’s look at what we do to the voiceless.
One episode caught my attention the other day, the Birkin bag episode, in which Samantha puts herself on a waiting list to buy a $4,000 bag (apologies to those who are much more intelligent than me and therefore have no idea who Samantha is).
In September of this year a Birkin bag made from the skin of an almost albino crocodile was sold for nearly £120,000. I don’t know how humans are so different from each other that one person sees a beautiful bag worth £120,000 and others (me) see an animal that got nothing out of life, the crocodile was bred, lived in captivity and then got skinned for someone to walk around with a carry case for their lipstick.
My heart bleeds for the state of the world and then we move onto wool.

I understand that it is easier for someone to understand the anger at the crocodile bag in comparison to the wooly jumper but there isn’t much difference in the worthlessness of the animal’s life here and we need to focus on making things better for everyone/everything.

I looked up some ‘fun’ facts about wool and here are two to share,
Fact number 1- Bedouins (desert dwellers) have used wool for centuries to keep them cool in the summer heat.
This fact made me think about the continual question I get as a vegan about my diet, ‘but we have been eating meat for years, why are you stopping something that is tradition?’
If culture didn’t evolve we would still be living in caves, there needs to be a shift in how we do things for us to continue on the path to becoming civilised human beings.
Fact number 2- the fastest recorded shearing of a sheep was by Hilton Barrett from Australia, 39.31 seconds.
Seriously, try giving a very hairy man a shave in 39.31 seconds without hurting or causing him any discomfort.
This to me screams an absence of empathy.
We use these sheep as machines, we discard their feelings and we praise those who beat records without once a thought for the sheep he sheared.
Animals have been taken out of all equations and it is cleverly done so that consumer’s minds won’t wander and questions won’t be raised.
Peta has undercover videos graphically showing sheep being abused for their wool.
Dragged. Beaten. Stabbed. Punched.
Bear in mind shearers get paid by volume of wool not by hour!
The lambs have their ears hole-punched, tails are cut off and males from 2-8 weeks are castrated all without painkillers.
But that wooly jumper sure looks good.

Wild sheep that haven’t been bred for their wool do not need to be sheared. There was a time before man invented cutters, it makes sense that sheep were and are able to live free of haircuts, otherwise there wouldn’t be any sheep!
Their wool grows just enough to keep them warm in winter and cool in summer, just like the Bedouins use it for.

On the other hand there are sheep such as the Merino sheep that are genetically engineered to have wrinkly skin for more wool growth and therefore do need shearing.

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There are many problems with this,
if they are not sheared in time and many aren’t they die of heat stroke. If the shearers shear them early, sometimes Spring, which many do to meet high demand many die of exposure.
Because of the Merino sheep’s wrinkly skin around the buttock area urine can gather and that moisture attracts flies which lay eggs, this is called flystrike to resolve this issue the wrinkly skin is cut away with metal shears so no moisture can gather.
This is called Mulesing and by law in Australia antiseptics, anaethesisa and painkillers are not required for this procedure, can you imagine the pain?

All too often I have seen this type of picture, the sheep/lamb restrained and an open sore wound where he has just been sliced like meat without any painkillers.
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If we cannot fathom enduring such pain then we shouldn’t inflict it on any other creature.
Unfortunately the Australian Wool Industry which produces 1/4 of all the wool worldwide seems to be avoiding the issue and trying to get away with continuing this inhumane treatment but there is s big outcry against the practice and with more and more pressure things will hopefully change for the better.

Finally we should discuss what is done with these sheep when they are no longer used for wool, off to the slaughter house of course. Australia does have certain animal welfare laws but these all become null and void when they ship 3 million live sheep a year to the middle east for slaughter. The voyage can take days to weeks and in cramped, filthy conditions death and disease is inevitable, the middle east has little to no animal welfare laws and once the sheep arrive, those that are still usable are thrown around, beaten, stabbed and killed according to Halal regulations, by having their throats slit while fully conscious dyeing slowly and painfully.

This winter season please pick up a jumper that doesn’t have a horror story knitted into its fabric.
Let’s take a step back and remember the animals behind the fashion, after all you can’t take a wooly jumper and a Birkin bag with you in end but you can take a clear conscience.

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Bearing All

I think I have done more research on the Moon Bear (Asiatic Black bear) than I have done on any other animal on the planet. In 2012 I did a blog post about them for another blog site I had, note my relationship with writing has been on and off. However when I did that I was far more immature in my understanding and also in my research, I wanted to produce a nice blog post without truly understanding what I was finding out about. I read another blog recently from a man who wrote last year about the plight of the Moon Bears, he said that he had found something out that he wish he hadn’t and now he will share it.

I feel the same.

I don’t want to be alone in my agony that this world we live in does what it does to animals every blink of an eye, every second of every day.

When my husband and I had our blessing this year we decided to use donations as favours. My donation was to two animal charities one of them being
Animals Asia a rescue and rehabilitation charity for Moon Bears. Their site is where I learnt all about the daily agony of the bears on Bear Bile farms.

One must understand when reading this that Bear Bile farms are legal in China initially to protect bears in the wild from being poached, however wild Bear bile actually sells for a lot more money than farmed bile ($16,000/kg compared to $3,000/kg respectively) and loopholes exist that allow bears to be removed from the wild.

The law simply does nothing and it must be eradicated.

Moon Bears are so called because of the beautiful yellow crescent on their chest. They are solitary creatures yet are playful and intelligent and pretty damn adorable.

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Sadly, they harbour a terrible truth and it lies right in their gut, or more specifically their gall bladder. Bear Bile contains Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) which is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for liver and gall bladder problems as a pain-killer or anti-inflammatory, among other things. This ingredient is completely replaceable using both natural herbal ingredients or synthetic ones. However, consuming Bear Bile gives a superficial status which seems to be very important in China.

As I go on bear in mind that there are approximately 12,000 farmed bears in China and Vietnam combined (not forgetting Korea, which I will return to later, and other parts of Asia which also take part in this business) and each different farm has different methods of extracting and holding the bears, however each just as sordid as the last.

Farmed Bears, those that were not killed outright for their gall bladder, are sometimes missing limbs because they were caught in the wild using snares, and  spend 10-15 years living in tiny cages getting milked for their bile everyday.
Their claws are ripped out and their canine teeth are cut so they can’t instinctively defend themselves, they are starved and the only time they usually see food or fresh water is at time of milking so they are more manageable also, bile is produced and used to break down food fats if the bears rarely eat there is more bile to collect. Specially made cages called crush cages are sometimes used to crush the bear down to the bottom of the cage to aid in the milking process, some bears are left in these crush cages for years.

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As I said methods of extraction differ from farm to farm but each and every one is as painful and frankly unbelievable as the next. One method involves inserting a metal tube into the bear’s gall bladder, how it got there more than likely caused a lot of discomfort to the bear, was done without pain relief, was unsanitary and probably done by the farmer himself.  It should be noted that student veterinarians in China can choose to study in several different ways from a 3 month animal handling course to a 5 year degree. Once any of these is completed one is a certified veterinarian. If the farmer chooses not to insert the metal tube himself you can bet he wouldn’t hire a vet with a 5 year degree over one with a 3 month course, money always talks and in this case swears.
This metal tube remains in the gall bladder and each time bear bile is to be collected a plug is removed and the bile drips into a tray underneath the bear.

In the mid-1990’s the Chinese government encouraged free-dripping methods which seemed more humane. A tube is made using the bear’s own tissue and the farmer inserts a rubber tube into the hole at milking time to collect the bile. Two horrendous things arise from the free-dripping method, if the skin naturally starts to heal itself the farmer will have to force something through the skin to break the seal causing unimaginable pain (red-hot metal probes have been known to be used). Additionally bile leakage is a regular side effect and causes at the very least terrible burns on the bear’s outer skin and at the very worst peritonitis which is always fatal in these bears.

My blood is boiling as I read that a Chinese representative from CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) stated that the use of the bear’s own skin to make a tube ensures a pain-free bile extraction being as it is similar to the anus.
I know who I think is similar to an anus, anus!
If representatives of companies that help endangered animals are both wilfully ignorant and just plain ridiculous then it is hard to imagine a hopeful finale for the Moon Bears.

As a resident in South Korea it is difficult for me to ignore the fact that Korea is a major contributor to the Bear Bile industry both through production and black market trade with China. Bear Bile farming is illegal in Korea but South Korean law allows farmed bears to be slaughtered for their parts at 10 years old. It seems the government turn a blind eye to the obvious, people are not going to pay to keep bears alive for 10 years without making some kind of profit in the meantime.
There are an estimated 1,800 bears on farms in Korea and the most ironic thing of all is that the Bear is legendarily known as the mother of the founder of Korea.

**Hwan-Ung, the son of God, asked to be put on Earth, for he longed to live there. So God sent him to Korea. Once there he met a tiger and a bear who desired to become human. Hwan-Ung told them that if they ate only garlic cloves and mugwort for 100 days and lived in darkness, they would then become humans. The tiger gave up but the bear persisted.
She became a human!
Hwan-Ung then married the bear and they had a baby together, who went on to become the first king of Korea!**

First point, it is a little bit twisted that a country uses their own legendary symbol of greatness and power as a commodity in this gruesome way and second, the bear’s persistence, its strength in the face of pure evil is what is the most unfortunate thing of all.
For over a decade they can survive the traumas and tortures of being machines.

However there is hope for these majestic creatures through the wonderful people at Animals Asia who have rescued over 200 moon bears and go onto heal them, rehabilitate them and love them at their centres both in China and Vietnam.

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TCM philosophises that one cause of disease is disharmony between human and environment , if that be the case these animals must be revered rather than tortured and TCM must publicly denounce the use of bear bile in order to maintain the harmony they so deeply desire.

As a vegan I can only feel that this harmony will come about by living a life free of animal products and therefore free of animal exploitation. The fear, pain, worthlessness and anxiety that all animals are made to face for human greed is unnecessary and detrimental to our own bodies and peace of mind.
Consuming with a free conscience is true harmony.

Watch a short video to see first hand Animals Asia’s hard work.
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