Cuddly Olympic mascot draws attention to controversial South Korean bear farms

JIM MICHAELS  |  USA TODAY

1:33 a.m. GMT+7 Feb. 19, 2018

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 Inside a dog meat farm near Winter Olympics

Just 25 miles from the Olympics, the painful sight of Korea’s dog meat trade is laid bare.
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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – The Asiatic black bear is one of the cuddly mascots of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

But animal-rights activists say the choice of that mascot is ironic, since bears in South Korea are kept on farms and killed to harvest their bile, which is used in traditional medicine.

Animal-rights activists hope the Olympic mascots raise awareness about bear farming in South Korea.

Animal-rights activists hope the Olympic mascots raise awareness about bear farming in South Korea.
CHUNG SUNG-JUN, GETTY IMAGES

“It is wonderful to be celebrating the Olympics, but the mascot is the very species that is suffering on bear bile farms,” said Jill Robinson, CEO of Animals Asia, an organization working to ban the practice.

In this photo provided by the PyeongChang Organizing

In this photo provided by the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games, a former South Korean Olympic figure skater Yuna …Show more 

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Robinson said about 1,000 bears of that species — also called moon bears for the white crescent shapes on their chests — are kept on farms in South Korea. Activists hope the world’s focus on the Olympics will bring attention to the bears, which once roamed Korea’s rugged mountains.

“It’s our hope that the cute and cuddly cartoon moon bear mascot named ‘Bandabi’ will serve as an ambassador of sorts for actual moon bears in South Korea, whose lives are anything but idyllic and cute,” Robinson said.

The Olympics have already raised concerns over the South Korean practice of eating dog meat from animals raised in often filthy conditions on farms.

Under South Korean law, the bears are allowed to be killed at age 10 to have their gallbladders harvested so bile can be removed. (The average life of a bear is about 25.) The bile is used in traditional medicine to cure a host of ills. Bear farming is also common in China and Vietnam.

MORE: Inside the grim scene of a Korean dog meat farm, just miles from the Winter Olympics

MORE: Winter Olympics shine spotlight on dog meat trade in South Korea

But the practice in South Korea is fading as advocates make progress. Polls suggest most people have no interest in purchasing the bile, and the public has grown more sensitive to animal rights. Demand for the bile is dwindling as the compound found in it can be produced synthetically. South Korea has also banned the practice of extracting bile from live bears by using a catheter. And the government is pushing to sterilize the bears in an effort to reduce the numbers in captivity.

But activists are still concerned because there aren’t sanctuaries to rescue bears so they won’t all be killed when they turn 10.

“Bear farming is an extremely cruel and inhumane practice that has no place in modern society,” Robinson said.

1:33 a.m. GMT+7 Feb. 19, 2018

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