Kung Fu, a four-month-old cub, is one lucky bear.

He is one of the few Asian black bears, also called “moon bears”, to have been freed, when thousands still remain in captivity in Asia.

Kept in deplorable conditions in tiny “crush cages”, where they can hardly move, many of these bears have lost their teeth trying to gnaw their way out. They suffer this torture for years, being mistreated, malnourished and subjected to frequent jabbing with needles. Many die in the process.

They are also called “Bile bears”, grossly exploited for years for the extraction of their bile, the fluid cruelly drained from their bodies. It is estimated than in China alone about 10,000 bears are kept in captivity in legal “bear farms”. Even in countries where the practice is illegal, it continues to thrive.

The bear bile industry has been prevalent for more than a thousand years in Asia. It targets mostly Asian black bears, whose bile is used in Chinese medicine to treat gallbladder and liver conditions in humans. The bile contains Ursodeoxycholic Acid (UDCA), which has been shown to be effective against gallstones and specific liver diseases. It is also marketed as a cure for cancer, hangovers and libido-related issues, with no scientific basis. The practice is prevalent in China and South-East Asia, in countries like Vietnam and Laos, where it has recently gathered momentum.

A single bear’s gallbladder sells for as much as $7,500, which is around Rs 5 lakh. The black bear has now been listed as a critically-endangered species.

Animal activists, such as Animals Asia and Free the Bears, have been working on freeing these bears for several years, but they clearly have a long way to go.