Tragically, demand for bear parts – including gallbladders, bile, hides, and paws – has fueled an international bear trade industry. In Asia, bear parts are coveted for use in traditional medicine and hailed as a cure-all for a variety of ailments from sexual impotency to treating fevers. For example, some believe consuming bear paws will increase strength while gallbladders will enhance virility. In China, nearly 10,000 bears are kept in “farms” where they are routinely drained of their bile through devices implanted in the animals. Bear paws are considered a delicacy in soup. Some bear paws even end up as ash trays.
There is alarming evidence the trade in bear parts is impacting bears around the world. Each of Asia’s five bear species – the sun bear, sloth-bear, brown bear, Asiatic black bear, and the giant panda – has suffered from the Chinese medicinal trade, as well as from habitat destruction. Bears in North America and Russia are increasingly killed, many illegally, to supply a booming international trade. An estimated 80,000 black bears are killed in the U.S. every year to meet demands in bear parts for the Asia markets. In the U.S., there are no federal restrictions on selling bear parts. Each state has its own laws regulating the trade. Thirty-four states prohibit trade in bear gallbladders while six – Maine, New York, Vermont, Kansas, Wyoming, and Idaho – allow the sale of gallbladders.
The bear parts trade is big business. Undercover investigations have revealed that a dried bear gallbladder can be worth as much as $30,000 and a single serving of bear paw soup can go for as much as $1,400. World-wide trafficking of bear parts is valued at $2 billion.
Over the past century, healthy populations of other wildlife – such as Siberian tiger, the African elephant, Great white shark, and the Dodo bird – have all plummeted when their parts, hide, and plumage became highly prized. If left unchecked, an expanding bear trade will undoubtedly hit bear populations hard, increasing the risk of extirpation of populations and even extinction of some bear species.