Illegal trade in bear bile is widespread in Malaysia

The Sundaily, 29th May 2015

By Vathani Panirchellvum

KUALA LUMPUR: A new Traffic study has found that the illegal trade in bear bile and gall bladder for traditional medicine is open and widespread across Malaysia and poses a serious threat to wild bears.

The wildlife trade monitoring network’s survey of 365 traditional medicine shops across Malaysia found that 175 (48%) claimed to be selling bear gall bladders and medicinal products containing bear bile, according to the study “Hard to Bear: An Assessment of Trade in Bear Bile and Gall Bladder in Malaysia” which was released to the media today.

Every state in Malaysia had bear gall bladder and bear bile products for sale and the rate was highest in Peninsular Malaysia, where 51% (148 shops) of the total shops surveyed were found to sell bear products, compared with 42% in Sabah and 35% in Sarawak.

Nearly 60% of 298 bear gall bladders observed for sale were claimed to be from wild Sun Bears killed locally through either opportunistic or deliberate poaching.

The report says pills containing bear bile could be purchased individually, with prices ranging from RM 0.40 up to RM96 per pill, and in numerous shops in Peninsular Malaysia, retailers demanded higher prices for pills allegedly comprising pure bear bile.

“The fact that so many traders revealed that gall bladders were sourced locally for trade, points to a potentially significant impact on wild bear populations throughout Malaysia,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director for Traffic in Southeast Asia.

Staff in more than half of the shops surveyed admitted to knowing that trade in bear parts and products was illegal under the country’s Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 which carries stiff penalties.

According to the survey, the vast majority of shops selling bear products claimed to have ongoing supplies of at least some of the items, though there are no known captive bear breeding facilities in Malaysia.

“Domestic and international trade is prohibited, yet parts and products continue to be locally sourced or imported from elsewhere. With health being the foremost motivation for (this) continued illegal trade, this study has paved the way for a platform for engagement with key players from the health sector to influence change,” he added.

Traffic is engaging with the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia and the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau of the Ministry of Health to drive home the urgent need to end the illegal trade in bear products.

The Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia has issued a call to its 43 member associations to stop using parts or products of protected wildlife in their practice and retail outlets.

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