Bear poachers seem to have a lot of gall
A man was arrested in Redding on Saturday on suspicion of illegally trafficking bear gall bladders, and a bear-protection advocate said the problem of bear poaching is increasing at Lake Tahoe.
Undercover wardens from the state Department of Fish and Game arrested Huong Tovan of San Diego while he was allegedly trying to buy bear gall bladders, The Associated Press reported.
Tovan, 54, faces up to one year in state prison and a $5,000 fine.
Officials say Tovan ran a bear gall bladder-processing operation, and the parts probably were going to be sold on the medicinal market in southeast Asia. The investigation began in October when wildlife officials received an anonymous tip.
Bears can be hunted in California, but it is illegal to buy or sell bear parts.
The fact that bear gall bladders are a prized commodity puts Tahoe Basin bears in danger, said Ann Bryant, executive director of the BEAR League.
“It’s a very serious problem,” she said. “Bear gall bladders are known to heal stomach ailments.”
Bryant said the gall bladders are very prized. “People believe these healing powers are stronger than any medicine from a doctor,” she said. “Gall bladders are worth more than their weight in gold.”
Bryant said the problem in the Lake Tahoe area has increased recently because local bears have gained global fame.
“These bears have gained international media attention,” she said. “It makes the poachers’ ears perk up.”
Bryant said the poachers are “very secretive” and use strong-smelling bait to lure the bears. Poachers make a slit in the animals’ sides and take the gall bladders, she said.
“They take the part they want and leave it,” she said. “It’s happening right now because it’s hunting season.”
Bryant said she was unsure how many bears are poached each year.
“As a guess, in the Tahoe Basin each year, 20 to 30 bears are poached mostly on the California side,” she said.
Bryant said a big part of the problem is that there aren’t enough officials to stop the poachers.
“The Fish and Game Commission is so short-staffed,” she said. “People are retiring, and there aren’t enough wardens to patrol areas.”
For more information, call the BEAR League at (530) 525-7297.