Traffic counts 300 bears killed to supply Malaysian shops

Star2.com, 1st June 2015

Sun bear Natalie at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok, Sabah. Photo: BSBCC/Chiew Lin May

The wide availability of traditional Chinese medicines shows that Malaysians continue to trust the efficacy of folk remedies; never mind that endangered wildlife are slaughtered to make some of these cures.

The Traffic report Hard To Bear: An Assessment Of Trade In Bear Bile And Gall Bladder In Malaysia revealed that shops selling bear-based products were mostly in Perak (27), Johor (26), Kuala Lumpur (21), Sarawak (17) and Penang (16), Selangor (14) and Pahang (13).

Xiong Dan pills, clear gelatine capsules filled with bear bile extract or powder, were the most common items for sale in traditional Chinese medicine shops. Most were said to be manufactured in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor, using imported ingredients. They were typically sold in bottles with no labels or listed ingredients. Many retailers claimed that selling bear bile in capsule form allowed them to evade detection of illegal sales. Prices ranged from 40 sen to RM96 per pill.

Whole bear gall bladders were predominantly sold in Sarawak, Kuala Lumpur, Perak and Sabah. The survey found 293 gall bladders and five gall bladder skins for sale – that’s almost 300 bears slaughtered!

Small, longish and black gall bladders were said to be from local bears while the larger, roundish, black or dark brown ones were imported, mostly from China, with small amounts from Indonesia, India, Thailand, Russia, Vietnam and Nepal.

The bladders were sold whole or in portions. Most were supposedly from decades-old stockpiles. Shops offering freshly acquired gall bladders are mostly found in Sabah and Sarawak.

Nearly 60% of the gall bladders was sourced locally, mostly from indigenous people. This means at least 178 sun bears were hunted. In fact, shops in Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak had only gall bladders from local bears. Prices ranged from RM30 to RM240 each, but can go up to over RM3,000.

Vials of bear bile flakes originating from Jilin, China.

Bear bile flakes sold in vials were found only in Peninsular Malaysia. The researcher counted some 104 vials, amounting to 726g of bear bile flakes during the survey. Prices ranged from RM4.80 to RM48 per gram. The information leaflet in each box was in multiple languages, including Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean, hinting at the wide Asian market for the product.

Shops in Peninsular Malaysia also offered raw liquid bile (RM57 per gram) and powdered bile (between RM3 and RM256 per gram). Other processed products containing bear bile are Tieh Ta Wan (a ball-shaped pill used for sports-related injuries), ointments, medicinal plasters and vials of powder used to treat mouth ulcers or sore throat.

Made in China

China is the main source of most bear bile products. These would either be extracted from a killed bear or from bear bile extraction facilities located in China. Product labels showed that bear farms in the city of Yanji in Jilin province, were the main suppliers of bile in vials. Another less common source was bear farms in Sichuan province.

Nevertheless, these products are still illegal as there are no captive breeding facilities registered with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, from which legal products can be imported.

Some retailers suggested herbal options in place of bear bile but many recommended other animal parts or animal-derived products. The most widely recommended wasPian Tze Huang, with ingredients of musk, ox gallstone, snake gall and ginseng.

Another popular alternative was porcupine bezoar, an undigested mass of food in the gastrointestinal system of the animal. The substance is believed to treat diabetes, dengue fever, typhoid, epilepsy and hepatitis. However, it is feared that the growing demand for porcupine bezoar (also known as porcupine date) will put another protected species at risk.

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