Ban sought on all sale and trade of bear parts on the market
Bear gall bladder and bile are valuable ingredients in traditional Chinese medicines and luxury goods, but Rep. Elton Gallegly, R. Calif., is pushing a bill that would ban the sale of such products in the United States.
The sale and trade of any bear part is illegal in California, carrying a fine of $5,000 and or six months in jail for each violation. It is also illegal in Oregon. But border states such as Nevada allow the sale of these bear products, making it easier for poachers who can hunt bears in California and sell their gall bladders and bile just over the border.
“People shouldn’t be home free just because they cross the state line,” said Paul Wertz, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Game
The impact of the black market activity in California is unknown.
“It is hard to keep track,” said Patrick Foy, public relations officer for the California Department of Fish and Game. “A lot of people will hunt bears legally and then turn around and illegally sell the gall bladder.”
In California, the bear population is very healthy at about 20,000, Foy said. But some want to keep it that way.
“The importance of this is two fold: to protect endangered bear populations now and let’s not wait until the American bear population gets endangered,” said Nancy Blaney, of the American Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “This is an opportunity to take a very important step to pull us back from that point.”
In China, there are farms for the production of bile, but gall bladders from wild bears are considered to produce better quality products and are more expensive. Since the Chinese bear population is dropping, the demand for bears has increased, making America a prime target for poaching, Blaney said.
Luxury products such as soap, shampoo, and bile wine have been found in Chinatowns across the United States including San Francisco where the sale is strictly prohibited.
Most poaching in California is done by people from urban areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco who hire guides to find bears, Foy said. Often these crimes are reported after the fact, when someone stumbles upon a bear carcass with the gall bladder removed, a process that takes only minutes. Bear gall bladders can cost $600 to $1,000, Foy said.
Bear hunting in California is strictly regulated and the season, which typically begins in the fall and ends in December, is cut off after 1,500 bears statewide are killed, Wertz said. But poachers don’t follow rules and there is no way of knowing if legally killed bears are being used for illegal purposes.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, poachers kill 40,000 bears in the United States annually, including thousands in National Parks. Between 1995 and 1999 Federal Law enforcement authorities uncovered 70 shipments of bear parts destined for Asia, according to a report by the society.
The bear population has continued to proliferate in California, but places like Virginia have seen significant declines.
In Nevada the bear population is only about 250 to 300, according to Carl Lackey, a wildlife biologist and game warden for the Nevada Division of Wildlife.
Killing bears for their gall bladders and bile is illegal in Nevada, but it is not illegal to sell the products.
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