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Do Consumers Prefer Wild, Farmed Bear Bile or Substitutes?

Zhao Liu1,2, Zhigang Jiang1,2,3*, Hongxia Fang1, Chunwang Li1 and Zhibin Meng1,3

1Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

2Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

3Endangered Species Scientific Commission of People’ Republic of China, Beijing, China

*Corresponding Author:
Zhigang Jiang
Institute of Zoology
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Beijing, China
Tel: 86-10-64807268
E-mail: [email protected]

Received date: November 5, 2014; Accepted date: January 16, 2015; Published date: January 23, 2015

Citation: Liu Z, Jiang Z, Fang C, Li C, Meng Z (2015) Do Consumers Prefer Wild, Farmed Bear Bile or Substitutes?. J Biodivers Endanger Species 3:146. doi:10.4172/2332-2543.1000146

Copyright: © 2015 Jiang Z, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Bear bile, as a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), has been used by TCM practitioners for millennia. Currently, there are arguments about bear farming as a tool for the conservation of wild bear. We designed questionnaires and surveyed citizens and college students in Beijing to elicit their perceptions and preferences toward wild or farmed bear bile and their substitutes. We found that most of students (57.37%) and citizens (38.99%) preferred substitutes rather than wild or farmed bear bile, due to “conservation of wild bears” and “cruelty in bile extraction from farmed bears”. Furthermore, under certain conditions, price and curative effects could be influential factors that alter purchase decisions of interviewees, and wild bear bile can be totally substituted by cheap and effective synthetic substitutes. So the success of a policy of “supply-side conservation” remains certain under the right conditions. The public of Beijing has recognized the importance of wildlife protection and their growing moral responsibilities for nonhuman animals might help reduce the threat to wild animals from medical needs.


Bear farming; Bear bile; Substitutes; Consumption behavior; Animal conservation


Traditional Chinese medicine bear bile

Bear bile, principally the dried gallbladder of black bears (Ursus thibetanus ) and brown bears (Ursus arctos ), is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) [1-3]. In China, the first record of using bear bile as a TCM dated back to 659 A.D. in Newly Revised Materia Medica (or Tang Materia Medica ). Bear bile is used to cure fever, detoxicate, relieve pain, improve eyesight and treat diseases, such as liver diseases, epilepsy, eclampsia and hemorrhoids [4-6]. Bear bile was listed in the 1963, 1977 and 1990 version of Chinese Pharmacopoeia. Besides mainland China, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan all use of bear bile as traditional medicines [4].Today, bear bile is consumed in more countries including Australia, European and North American countries [7,8].

In China, Asian black bears are the primary source for extraction of bile [9,10]. For a long time, the only source of bear bile is wild black bears [10-12]. Before the 1970s, it was estimated that 10,000 black bears would have been hunted and killed annually to meet the demand of three tons bear bile per year [11]. Due to habitat loss and uncontrolled exploitation, the population of black bears has declined, especially in Southeast Asia and China [12]. The traditional method of hunting wild bear for bile will undoubtedly threaten the survival of bears [4,9,13]. Black bears and brown bears are enlisted as Class II National Protected Wild Animals and were listed in the Appendix I of CITES in 1992.

Black bear farming in China

Commercial trade of live bears and bear part, especially gall bladders (bile), are major threat to bears in China and Southeast Asia [7,12,14]. Bear farming and the technique of extracting bile from living bears was first introduced to China in 1984 from North Korea [5,15,16], and mitigates the short supply of bear bile. It was reported that farming one black bear can save 400 wild black bears, if one bear is extracted for bile for ten years [16]. The output of dry bile powder from 1995 to 1998 increased to seven tones each year, and then there is a large surplus of dry bile powder in TCM market [17]. Some concern with TCM is partly due to the issue of animal welfare [18,19]. There are very strong objections to farming bears to collect their bile [4,17,20].

Why do we carry out such a study

WSPA reported 39 medicinal plants that could replace bear bile [21]. With the modernization of TCM, farming bears and seeking for alternatives has been considered not only as a way to supply TCM but also as a mean of protecting wild population from commercial trade [22,23]. Some researches indicate that farmed animals and substitutes would become a sufficient supply to meet consumers’ demands as well as win competition over wild-sourced wildlife products due to lower price [24-26]. However, other studies show that the role of wild flora and fauna based medicines in the inheritance and development of TCM is difficult to be replaced [27-29]. More importantly, consumer preferences and attitudes are influential to the consumption of animal medicine [23,30,31]. Consumers generally prefer products made from wild-source, believing they are more potent than farm-raised ones, even the wild ones are more expensive [23,28,32-34]. A recent study have shown that the ability of farmed bear bile to reduced demand of wild bear bile is at best limited and, or have the opposite effect [23]. What are the preferences of consumers in choosing from wild bear bile, farmed bear bile and substitutes, and why? This study aims to answer these questions with information gathered through questionnaires.

Materials and Methods

Ethics statement

This study was reviewed and approved by the Ethical Committee of the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Permit No.: IOZ11013). All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the instructions and permissions of the Ethical Committee. All researchers and investigators were certified before performing this study. All data collected through this study remained anonymous and confidential.

Sampling method

This study carried out from December 2011 to January 2012 in Beijing. A stratified survey design was chosen to randomly select neighborhoods from a sample frame of Beijing [35]. Interviewers learnt information about households from neighborhood committees, before a random sampling was taken. Once a sample household was identified, face to face interview was conducted at home with randomly selected household members who were 18 years or old and had lived in Beijing for at least one year. In the same way, the interviewers obtained the students’ accommodation information from the dormitory management committees, and then randomly sampled the dormitories and students. Respondents were given with a souvenir for acknowledgment after interview [23,31].

Questionnaire design

We designed questionnaire for the investigation with 2 consumption scenarios by adopting stated preference techniques to elicit the preferences of consumers [36-38]. In China, consumers frequently rely on their own judgment to buy and use nonprescription medicine which can be purchased from a TCM shop, a medical materials market, and online shops, among other sources. Before answering the questions, respondents were asked to recall actual past experiences of purchasing or using non-prescription medicine products and imagine that current consumption scenarios were real. After that, the respondents were asked to imagine that they were suffering from a disease and feeling discomfort, thus they might need to buy bear bile for treatment. Finally, we inquired the respondents whether they were in the state for consumption. Respondent were then prepared to enter the choice experiment [23].

Scenario 1: The respondent needed to purchase bear bile powder. To estimate consumer preferences, there were four options: “wild” bear bile, “farmed” bear bile, “substitutes” and “whatever”, which had the same or similar curative effect and their prices were all affordable to the respondent. If “substitute” or “whatever” were selected, the respondent would then need to choose among five types of substituted materials, including “wild animal”, “farmed animal”, “wild plant”, “farmed plant” and “synthetic” or to choose “whatever” materials. After completing their choices, the respondents were asked to explain why each choice had been made.

Scenario 2: The respondent needed to purchase bear bile powder among following five options: “wild” or “farmed” bear bile powder, “other animal materials” or “plant materials” as substitute, “synthetic” medicine and “whatever”, all of which were free from toxic or side effects. The respondent were asked to make a choice under each of four sub-scenarios: (i) identical curative effects and price; (ii) identical curative effects, while prices decreasing in turn; (iii) identical prices, while curative effects increasing in turn; (iv) similar to condition (i), but the respondent were told that the wild bear bile was supplied by killing wild bears for bile extraction and the farmed bear bile was supplied by extracting bile from living farmed bears.

Data analysis

Statistical analyses were used to study the information collected from questionnaire. Pearson’s Chi-square Test was used to test crosstables data, and the Cochran’s Q test was used to test the selection difference of multiple-choice questions. Binary logistic regression model was used to estimate the relationship between the influencing factors and the use of bear bile medicines [39]. The SPSS 17.0 and MATLAB R2009b were used for statistical analysis and graphing.


We carried out a questionnaire survey among 692 citizens and 350 college students in Beijing from January to March in 2012.

Consumption scenario 1

We found that when students or citizens selected medicinal materials of different sources, there was a difference among choices respectively (Citizens: Cochran's Q = 119.004, df=3, P < 0.01; Students: Cochran's Q = 237.611, df=3, P < 0.01). Most of students (57.37%) and citizens (38.99%) selected substitutes. The major reasons for the choice were “conservation of wild bears” (Citizens: 24.01%; Students: 31.58%) and “cruelty in bile extraction from farmed bears” (Citizens: 4.41%; Students: 12.71%) (Figure 1). A Crosstabs χ2 test showed that preferences of citizens and students were different when selecting medicinal materials of different sources (χ2 = 46.973, df=3, P < 0.01). The results showed that more citizens (25.33%) selected wild materials than students (10.72%), and mainly due to “more reliable efficacy” (10.91%) and “being natural” (9.53%).


Figure 1: Survey among 692 citizens and 350 college students in Beijing from January to March in 2012

When students or citizens chose different substitutes for bear bile, there was a difference among choices respectively (Citizens: Cochran’s Q = 190.028, df=5, P < 0.01; Students: Cochran’s Q = 112.044, df=5, P < 0.01). The most popular choice of citizens was “whatever” (23.67%), followed by “wild plant” (23.67%), “synthetic” (18.17%) and “farmed plant” (16.67%) (Figure 1). Citizens chose “wild plant” mainly for “conservation of wild animals” (7.75%), followed by “more credible efficacy” (3.93%). Citizens chose “synthetic” and “farmed plant” mainly for “conservation of wild animals” (7.69%) and “conservation of wild plants” (5.47%). A Crosstabs χ2 test indicated that there was a difference between citizens’ and students’ preferences when selecting from different substitutes (χ2 = 25.908, df=5, P < 0.01). The most popular choice of students was “wild plant” (26.01%), followed by “farmed plant” (21.96%), “synthetic” (20.53%) and “whatever” (18.85%). They chose “wild plant” mainly due to the “conservation of wild animals” (7.76%) and “it remains medicinal materials, so it is acceptable” (5.31%). They chose “farmed plant” and “synthetic” mainly for the “conservation of wild animals” and “conservation of wild plants”.

Consumption scenario 2

Under different sub-scenarios of scenario 2, there was a difference among choices of different medicines (Cochran's Q test: P < 0.01). In sub-scenario (i), both the citizens and students preferred “plant materials”. In sub-scenario (ii), citizens preferred “synthetic” medicine, while students preferred “plant materials”. In sub-scenario (iii), both the citizens and students preferred “synthetic” medicine. In sub-scenario (iv), both the citizens and students preferred “plant materials” and the number of people who chose “wild” and “farmed” bear bile powder were lower than the number under sub-scenario (i). Under each sub-scenario, both the citizens and students expressed lowest preference for “farmed” bear bile powder (Table 1).

Sub-scenario Public A% B% C% D% E% F% Cochran's Q test Crosstabs χ2 test Citizens vs Students Crosstabs χ2 test i vs ii/iii/iv
i Citizens 25.87 8.96 4.34 30.78 15.75 20.09 203.028*, df=5 53.426*,df=5  
Students 10.00 8.86 6.00 50.00 16.29 17.14 266.241*, df=5  
ii Citizens 14.88 7.37 11.27 34.68 40.61   295.841*, df=4 37.102*,df=4 97.977*,df=4
Students 5.71 9.14 17.43 47.43 32.57   200.640*, df=4 32.906*,df=4
iii Citizens 5.06 5.49 9.25 30.64 57.37   685.985*, df=4 15.262*,df=4 272.023*,df=4
Students 2.00 5.14 9.71 42.00 51.71   353.477*, df=4 94.784*,df=4
iv Citizens 12.14 5.64 11.13 41.62 38.58   383.829*, df=4 36.481*,df=4 120.535*,df=4
Students 3.14 5.43 10.57 57.43 31.43   355.030*, df=4 41.759*,df=4

Table 1: Selection frequency of the respondents in different Sub-scenarios of Scenario 2. Letters stand for sources of medicine materials: A: wild bear bile; B: farmed bear bile; C: other animal materials as substitute; D: plant material as substitute; E: synthetic; F: whatever. In Sub-scenario (i), curative effects and price were identical, while respondent was required to buy medicines from A, B, C, D, E; in Sub-scenario (ii), curative effects were constant, while prices decreased in A, B, C, D, E in turn; in Sub-scenario (iii), prices were constant, while curative effects increased in A, B, C, D, E in turn; in Sub-scenario (iv), the condition was similar to condition (i), but respondents were told that the wild bear bile was supplied by hunting wild bears for bile extraction and the farmed bear bile was supplied by extracting bile from living farmed bears and that the other conditions were the same as in Condition (i). *P < 0.01

A Crosstabs χ2 test showed that there was a difference between citizens and students in their preferences for medicine under different sub-scenarios (P < 0.01) (Table 1). A paired samples T-test presented that under different sub-scenarios, citizens showed more preference than students for “wild” bear bile powder (t = 3.543, df =3, P < 0.05) and less preference than students for “plant materials” (t = -8.469, df =3, P < 0.01). There was no difference between citizens and students in their preferences for other medicinal materials (P>0.05). It was also indicated that sub-scenarios (i) was different from sub-scenarios (ii), (iii) and (iv) respectively (P < 0.01) (Table 1). From the result of Spearman Correlation Analysis, it could be seen that when the price varied under sub-scenarios (ii), there was a negative correlation between selection frequency and price (Citizens: r = -0.944, P < 0.01; Students: r = -0.581, P < 0.01). When efficacy varied under subscenarios (iii), there was a positive correlation between selection frequency and efficacy (Citizens: r = 1.000, P < 0.01; Students: r = 1.000, P < 0.01). A Binary Logistic Regression Analysis showed that efficacy and price had an influence on decision-making of both the citizens and students (P < 0.01) (Table 2).

  Impacts of curative effect   Impacts of price  
Subjects Variable Coefficients S.E. Wald P value Variable Coefficients S.E. Wald P value
Citizens Curative effect 0.989 0.043 530.534 <0.01 Price -0.500 0.033 233.168 <0.01
  Intercept -4.763 0.175 741.102 <0.01 Intercept 0.082 0.091 0.808 >0.05
Students Curative effect 1.041 0.062 284.661 <0.01 Price -0.585 0.047 153.274 <0.01
  Intercept -4.923 0.252 382.275 <0.01 Intercept 0.335 0.129 6.784 <0.01

Table 2: Binary Logistic Model of choice frequency against price and curative effect in Scenario


The respondents showed preference for bear bile’s substitutes on the conservation grounds. Dutton (2011)’s study showed that Consumers still preferred wild bear bile when farmed bear bile was available and caused a price competition [23]. Some studies indicated that consumers of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) prefer products made from wild-source, believing they are more potent than other alternatives [23,26,32]. But our results indicated that people prefer substitutes than wild or farmed bear bile. This situation may be related to their perception of moral and ethical disputes caused by bile extraction from living bears. Consumer’ attitudes and perception influence their buying behaviors and habits [40]. Public education and publicity had a pervasive impact on wildlife consumption and knowledge of protection [41-43]. Our study showed that more students selected substitute than citizens, and a fairly high percentage of citizens and students selected “wild plant” substitutes, mainly to conserve of wild animals. College students are a special group of people who have Received systematic higher education and have higher level of animal protection awareness [44]. People with a higher education level consume less medicine made from endangered wild animals, such as bear bile and tiger products [23,31]. There was a clear correlation between higher wildlife law awareness and higher levels of education [41]. Legislation on wildlife protection and public education could reduce the public’s consumption of wild animals [41,43]. Due to the moral and ethical disputes caused by bile extraction from living bears, consumers tend to take a cautious attitude when making their choices to avoid selecting wild bear bile. Consumers take action based on their perception, past knowledge and experience [40]. Intention and behavior of people is changed due to the influence of some opinions and ideas [45]. Thus the results could be indicated that respondents own moral decision-making or outside ethical pressure may alter their consumption behaviors.

Price could be an influential factor that alters purchase decisions. For example, consumers often prefer wild animal products to alternatives. This belief leads to price differential and profit margins that may continue to spur wild collection even after the introduction of farmed supplies [23,26,32]. Some study also demonstrated that social marketing ‘Price’ campaigns also can apply to numerous environmental problems and establish reciprocal for resource conservation, such as creating local Reciprocal Water Agreement for water and biodiversity conservation, promoting the benefits of payment for forest conservation and habitat of wildlife [46,47]. When consumers weight the advantages and disadvantages to make a decision, they will perceive the price, which undoubtedly play an important role [40,48]. However, by the influence of ancient tenets of TCM, people usually prefer TCM products from wild animal materials, thus consumers may be more willing to pay a premium for wild products rather than buy cheaper farmed products or substitutes [21,23,28]. This study indicated that consumers are price-conscious and are more likely to choose the cheapest option available, which are synthetic materials. With the increase of wild products prices, consumers were more likely to choose substitutes [26,30]. Similar to our conclusion, some study showed that demand for bushmeat also decreased with the rise in price [49,50]. Beside price, efficacy is another key factor that features in the decision-making process of consumers [51]. Consumers’ selection frequency of bear bile and its substitutes increased with the increase in curative effects (Table 1).

Under certain conditions, wild bear bile can be totally substituted by substitutes. Thus, we concluded that under the right conditions, the success of a policy to “substitute for conservation” is certain. The results of the case study also enabled us to see that conservation policy can be used as a powerful tool to change the consumer behavior.


This study was supported by the Knowledge Innovation Project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KSCX2-EW-Z-4) and the Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31372175). We thank all members of the Wildlife and Behavioral Ecology Group, IOZ/CAS and all investigators who participated in the investigation. We are grateful for the recommendations from the members of the expert panel for this project.


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