By Nick Eagland
The recent discovery of a black bear carcass missing its paws and gall bladder near Sechelt serves as a grim reminder that a black market for bear parts still thrives in B.C.
Sgt. Murray Smith of the Conservation Officer Service’s Sunshine Coast detachment said he believes the mutilated carcass, found on a forestry road just over two weeks ago, is the work of poachers.
Though Smith doesn’t believe there are active poaching rings at work, he said the Conservation Officer Service has made some “good arrests” in connection with the bear part trade locally.
The trade of such parts “still goes on” in B.C., said Ernie Cooper, an environmental consultant and former director of the World Wildlife Fund’s wildlife trade monitoring program, TRAFFIC.
He suspects most use of B.C. black bear gall bladders for bile is domestic.
“It’s being used by people living in Canada as opposed to being smuggled to Asia,” said Cooper, who has spent decades working in wildlife inspection, enforcement and conservation.
“Last I heard, a few years ago, a poacher in Canada could get about $100 for a black bear gall bladder and those same gall bladders would sell for about $1,000 in Asia.”
Cooper said American black bear gall bladders are smaller than those of Asiatic black and brown bears, and not considered as valuable in China and Korea.
B.C.’s black bears are considered secure and not at risk of extinction according to the endangered species list, but they’ve been targeted for their gall bladders for use in traditional Asian medicine. Bear paw soup is considered a delicacy in many Asian countries.
Bear bile, which contains the active ingredient ursodeoxycholic acid, has been used for more than 3,000 years by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners to treat fever, gall stones, liver problems, heart disease and eye irritation.
When concern around gall bladder poaching peaked in the 1990s, Cooper and his team went on a two-year inspection blitz of every traditional Chinese medicine dealer in Vancouver and Victoria, but turned up nothing.
“The reality is, nobody’s going to have them in the store anyhow,” he said.
“They would have them at home or in another location, and if you want a bear gall bladder and they know you and trust you, then they’ll hook you up.”
Properly licensed hunters are permitted to kill black bears in B.C. during hunting season, though it’s illegal to possess, import or traffic bear gall bladders and genitalia that are separate from the carcass or hide.
It’s also illegal to import, export or traffic bear paws that are separate from the carcass or hide. A conviction can result in a six-month prison sentence, $250,000 fine, or both.
Cooper said that in B.C., with its abundance of bears, proactive conservation efforts and “good management, enforcement and awareness” around wildlife, poaching hasn’t reached the rampant levels found internationally.
Still, mutilated black bear bodies continue to turn up around the province.
In September, the body of a black bear missing both front paws was found in a field in Pitt Meadows, though its gall bladder and back paws had been left intact.
A year ago, a black bear carcass was found in North Vancouver missing its head and claws. It’s abdomen had been cut open but the carcass was too decomposed for officers to determine if organs had been removed.
Insp. Chris Doyle, acting deputy chief of provincial operations for the Conservation Officer Service, said black bear poaching remains a concern though it’s difficult to separate cases for statistical purposes.
“It’s not uncommon for bears to be found that have been possibly harvested illegally and with parts missing,” he said.
“There’s obviously some that would go undetected or unreported as well.”
Conservation officers occasionally intercept black bear parts due for export at the airport, Doyle said, and the agency is investigating an incident where a gall bladder was found in someone’s luggage this spring.
Registered traditional Chinese medicine practitioners are forbidden by the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of B.C. from using such parts.
“The poaching of the black bear is barbaric and cannot be tolerated,” said Mary Watterson, the college’s CEO and registrar, in an email.
Watterson said the use of bear bile isn’t permitted in the province’s TCM practices and the college ensures its registrants uphold the law.
Meanwhile, Smith said a public release was sent out regarding the carcass near Sechelt in hopes the poachers can be tracked down.
“We’re run out of substantive evidence at the site,” Smith said.
“This is an opportunity for the public — somebody always knows something.”
Those looking to make a confidential report about this or other incidents can phone the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) toll-free number at 1-877-952-7277.
Poachers pay the price
High-profile bear poaching charges in B.C.
2014: Nanaimo resident Fan Liu attempted to buy illegal gall bladders during an undercover operation. Penalty: $15,000 fine and $1,320 payment forfeited.
2011: Richmond resident Zhen Kun Chen was caught carrying three black bear paws in carry-on luggage at YVR. Penalty: $4,000 fine.
2005: Burnaby couple Kwang Ho Yoon and Myung Soon Yoon were caught in possession of a black bear gall bladder at a road check. Penalty: $6,000 fine and semi-automatic rifle confiscated.
2000: Burnaby resident Jae Beum Hue killed a black bear sow during closed season and took its paws and gall bladder. Its two young were presumed starved. Penalty: $14,500 fine, $5,000 rifle confiscated and 14 days in jail. Video.