The illegal trade in bear parts is continuing “unabated” across Asia, according to a report by wildlife monitoring group TRAFFIC that accuses Burma of indulging in the widespread sale of bear products.
Poaching of the endangered animal is driven largely by the demand for its bile which is used in traditional medicine and folk remedies, according to the report, ‘Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia’. In Burma, along with China, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia, these products were observed in half of all outlets surveyed.
While domestic trade of bear bile is legal in mainland China and Japan, it is illegal in Cambodia, Malaysia, Burma, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. All cross-border products found in Burma were sourced from neighbouring Laos, despite a strict ban on international trade.
According to Kaitlyn-Elizabeth Foley, lead author of the report and senior programme officer of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, both the Asiatic Black Bear and the Sun Bear are threatened by the trade. Both species are found in the region, and are native to Burma.
“The study makes a clear case for authorities to shut down businesses selling illegal bear products and prosecute individuals caught selling, buying, transporting or keeping bears illegally,” said Foley.
Under Burmese law, the hunting and sale of protected animals such as the two bear species is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment. But an investigation by the group of 42 stalls in the Shan state towns of Mong La and Tachilek found that 30 sold bear gall bladder. “All were openly displayed and sold in whole form with price dependent on weight,” it said. Prices for a single gall bladder in Burma hovered around $US50, while in Hong Kong one could reach $US2000.
The report continued that the high turnover in trade meant that sourcing bear products from wild, and not farmed, species “is almost a certainty”.
“It is likely therefore, that the trade of bear products in Myanmar [Burma] puts an unsustainable pressure on wild populations both in Myanmar and surrounding countries.”
Burma, the report added, “plays a critical role as a producer of bear bile products and a transit for illegal trade through wildlife trade hubs such as Mong La and Tachilek.
“It is also a concern that foreigners may continue to establish bear farms in Myanmar, especially in light of increasing pressure on China and Vietnam to stop bear farming.”