May 11
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In the News: Pills, Powders, Vials and Flakes – The bear bile trade in Asia continues unabated

The demand for bile in traditional medicine and folk remedies continues to drive poaching and illegal trade of bears in Asia, according to a new report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

The report, entitled Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia, reveals that bear bile products were found on sale in traditional medicine outlets in all but one of the 13 countries and territories that were surveyed.

Photo of bear farm where bile is extracted from the gall bladders of Asiatic black bears

Bear farm where bile is extracted from the gall bladders of Asiatic black bears.

Complex trade

The report uncovered a complex and robust trade in bear products, with several countries either producing or consuming bear bile, with many doing both.

The most frequently encountered products were whole bear gall bladders and pills.

Mainland China was commonly the reported place of origin for bear products across Asia, while bear bile products were most frequently observed in mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam, where they were recorded in over half of all outlets that TRAFFIC surveyed.

Photo of Asiatic black bear bile products used in traditional Chinese medicine

Asiatic black bear bile products used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Flouting international trade laws

Despite being illegal to trade bear bile internationally, many countries continue to do so. An analysis of the origin of bear bile products by TRAFFIC found that import and export regulations are commonly flouted.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is meant to prohibit international commercial trade in the species that are listed on its Appendices, which includes all bears, as well as their parts and derivatives.

But, as Kaitlyn-Elizabeth Foley, lead author of the report and Senior Programme Officer of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, says, “Unbridled illegal trade in bear parts and products continues to undermine CITES which should be the world’s most powerful tool to regulate cross-border wildlife trade.”

The TRAFFIC report clearly demonstrates a failure to implement CITES requirements to stop illegal international bear bile trade effectively and protect bears from exploitation.

Photo of Asiatic black bear cubs used to provide bile from gall bladder

Asiatic black bear cubs used to provide bile from gall bladder.

Asiatic black bears and sun bears are the two most commonly exploited species in the bear bile trade. Both are listed on Appendix I of CITES, and both species are threatened by poaching and illegal trade.

“The demand for bile is one of the greatest drivers behind this trade and must be reduced if bear conservation efforts are to succeed,” adds Foley. “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.”

Photo of Malayan sun bear in cage

Malayan sun bear in cage.

Read the TRAFFIC press release or read the full report Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia.

Find out more about Asiatic black bears and sun bears on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

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