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TRAFFIC report shows bile trade out of control

It’s been a long time coming, but well worth the wait. An impressive and explosive new report by TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) reveals a trade out of control with the message: “Illegal bear bile trade rampant in Asia”.

This long-awaited report, “Pills, Vials, Powders and Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia”, offers positive proof that “the poaching and illegal trade of bears, driven largely by the demand for bile used in traditional medicine and folk remedies, continues unabated across Asia on a large scale.”

Helped by some generous friends across the world, Animals Asia was able to direct funds to this ground-breaking initiative and contributed important information in respect of China and Vietnam.

Today the report exposes a “complex and robust trade in bear products” with “mainland China the most commonly reported place of origin for these products across the region”.

Thirteen places were surveyed, plus several bear farms in Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. All traditional medicine (TM) shops in all places, except Macau, had bear bile for sale. All places except mainland China and Taiwan had significant amounts of bear bile sourced internationally. China was the largest producer, with seven countries selling significant amounts of products originating from there.

TRAFFIC made the point that any country (apart from Korea) with farms was both a producer and consumer of bear bile and so concluded that bear farms failed to fulfil any kind of conservation role, as pressures on wild populations and a steady demand for bear bile persist in Asia. Many of the products were wild sourced, again refuting the efficacy of bear farming practices as a conservation measure that alleviates pressure on wild populations by providing farmed bile.

There were some surprises too when the paper stated that Hong Kong’s bile was reported to be from Japan, and bile found in Korea was reported to be from the wild in Russia. So while the shops in Korea are apparently not selling bear bile from China and Vietnam, we do know that the Chinese and Vietnamese farms themselves are doing a roaring trade from Korean tourists who are smuggling bile back into the country illegally.

One major concern for TRAFFIC is the expanding trade and number of bear farms in Laos and Myanmar (ex Burma), and naturally this is on our radar too. TRAFFIC found 102 bears on four farms in Laos (98 moon bears and four sun bears) and consequently some urgent intervention and enforcement is required to plug this emerging source of bile.

Japan, interestingly, saw four bear parks visited, with the park spokespeople all saying they incinerated their bears when they died. Only one park admitted selling bile products, which they said originated from wild bears. Sadly, the laws in Japan allow hunting of wild bears as dangerous animals......

Clearly then, CITES regulations are being ignored and national regulations are unenforced as raw bile, bile products, gall bladders and live bears are commonly traded across international boarders. TRAFFIC’s recommendations were that markets selling illegal bear products should be closed down, and greater enforcement was needed throughout Asia.

They also recommended that the Association of South East Asian Nations Wildlife enforcement Network (ASEANWEN) and partner members of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), which consists of CITES Secretariat, Interpol, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Customs Organisation and the World Bank, join together as a united force against the trade.

TRAFFIC emphasised that enforcement and seizure information needed to be shared, and illegal bear farms should be closed. We would go one step further by suggesting that ALL farms must urgently be investigated in both China and Vietnam, in order that the inevitable illegal practices are exposed and the farms finally closed down.

And, sensibly, TRAFFIC is recommending various education campaigns by NGOs to raise awareness and encourage the local community to help protect bears. This would include hotlines so that the public can be encouraged to report illegal hunting and trading of bears.

Again, one of the major conclusions to be drawn from the report was that Chinese bear farmers are clearly circumventing the regulations and exporting bear bile illegally, in an industry that is out of control. As China is reported to be the most common place of origin for bear bile products across the region, we encourage the authorities to end the gross exploitation of the country’s endangered and charismatic bears by a few greedy opportunists, who are hindering conservation and welfare efforts.

See our full story here.

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