Why Bear Gallbladders? Asian Medicine Expert Explains

December 6, 2011

Why bear gallbladders? That’s the question many people asked after hearing about the arrest of Tracy Davis, the Nelson County man accused of trapping and killing bears to harvest their organs, among other charges.

They’ve been used in Asian medicine for 2,000 years, and now the gallbladders of black bears are becoming a hot commodity with a hefty price tag. The black market for the coveted organs has quickly grown in the Commonwealth, but the lengths to which people will go to collect the gallbladders is being called horrific and illegal.

Some 10,000 bears are being held captive in “bear farms” in several Asian countries for harvesting. The bile stored in those vital organs is used in traditional Asian medicine to treat things like heart disease, diabetes, liver problems and even hangovers.

“The way they harvest the bile is by cutting a hole in the [bear’s] abdomen and drain it out,” said Matthieu Schmitter, who practices Chinese medicine in Charlottesville.

Because the organs are so easy to fake many Asian doctors will pay top dollar for authentic bear gallbladders. And that has led to an increase in poaching in many places, including Virginia.

Davis was arrested in late-November after allegedly giving an undercover agent three bear gallbladders to sell on the black market.

“There is definitely an underworld - a black market - that is going on in mostly Asian counties. I would assume they are trying to export [the gallbladders] to the East,” Schmitter explained.

A licensed acupuncturist at Three Qi Oriental Medicine, Schmitter says more and more patients are inquiring about the application of bear gallbladders to treat certain health issues. He says there are many alternatives to using the bile and tells his patients there are several herbal remedies that produce similar results.

Meanwhile, Davis is scheduled to make his first appearance in Nelson County Circuit Court on Wednesday. He is facing more than 50 charges related to the harvesting, animal cruelty and operating an illegal moonshine distillery.

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