Inside the disturbing world of illegal wildlife trade

To expose criminals who traffic animals, Rachel Nuwer went undercover—even posing as a prostitute.

A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature showed that between 1970 and 2014 the vertebrate population declined by an average of 60 percent. While this was mostly due to habitat loss, the illegal trade in wildlife—whether rhino horn, tiger bone, or animals captured for the exotic pet market—poses a growing threat to many species’ survival. But as National Geographic contributor Rachel Love Nuwer writes in her new book Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Traffickingmany brave individuals and organizations are battling to expose the criminals—and save the animals.

Speaking from her apartment in Brooklyn, New York, Nuwer explained how superstitious beliefs in China and Southeast Asia are a driving force of the trade; how wildlife trafficking needs to be tackled by law enforcement, not conservationists; and how she disguised herself as a prostitute to go undercover at a tiger farm in Laos.

The global wildlife trafficking trade is worth an estimated $7 to $23 billion. Who runs it? Where are the hotspots? Who profits? What are the most affected animals?

COURTESY HACHETTE BOOK GROUP COMPANY

The most obviously affected animals are the big, charismatic megafauna, like rhinos, elephants, tigers, and even bears. In reality, though, we’re talking about millions of individual animals of thousands of species. It spans poaching for jewelry, pets, traditional medicines, trophies, or wild meat, which some cultures consider a luxury item. This is a global trade. However, much of the demand for illegal wildlife products is in Asia, especially in China and Vietnam. That’s predominantly because wealth in those places has been increasing over the past decades, so people who previously could not afford things like ivory jewelry or rhino horn carvings now can do so. There’s more demand than there is supply.

There’s a misconception, especially in the media, that there are these Pablo Escobar-like kingpins controlling everything. While there is some evidence that a few people like that do exist, much of this illegal trade is made up of disorganized, opportunistic criminals. The guy in Zimbabwe killing an elephant and running its tusks to the nearby village won’t know the guy in the town, who then sells those tusks to the corrupt airport official who, in turn, doesn’t know who exactly the tusks are going to in Malaysia or Hong Kong.

That’s one of the reasons that it’s so hard to tackle this thing. It’s not like you can just knock out a couple of big guys at the top and you’ve solved it. Even when you do make arrests of so-called kingpins, they’re oftentimes readily replaced by their colleagues.

Most of us could draw an elephant or a rhino. But fewer could say what a pangolin looks like. Introduce us to this shy animal and explain why it is so highly prized that it now faces possible extinction.

Pangolins are definitely my new favorite animal since writing this book. They are better known here in the U.S. and the U.K. as scaly anteaters, which is funny because they’re not that closely related to anteaters. They’re more closely related to cats and dogs. They look like walking pinecones with feet, or tiny, odd-looking dragons.

There are four species of pangolins in Asia and four in Africa. Unfortunately, because they look so strange, people tend to attribute magical or medicinal properties to them. Traditional societies all over the world have different uses for pangolins, especially their scales. The biggest source of demand is traditional Chinese medicine, a version of which is also practiced in Vietnam. Their scales are boiled, dried, then ground up into a powder and served to women who are having trouble lactating, for example. In Vietnam their meat is also considered a delicacy. You call up a wild meat restaurant in advance and then it will either be prepared for you, or its throat will be slit on the spot.

Tigers worldwide are also facing particularly vexing challenges. Give us a picture of the illegal trade and the ancient superstitions, often driven by male sexual insecurity, that fuel it. Is there enough being done to combat these primitive beliefs?

Definitely not! There are an estimated 4,000 tigers left in the wild today. There’s many more than that in captivity. When I say captivity, I mean in people’s backyards in the U.S. and elsewhere, which is a completely different issue­—and then on so-called tiger farms in China and Southeast Asia. The tigers are bred, then slaughtered for their bones, meat, fur, teeth, and claws. Particularly sought after are the penises and bones, which are soaked in an awful-tasting rice wine and served, usually to men. They’re supposed to imbue men with the prowess and sexual energy of the tiger.

The Chinese have been really good about making a show of shutting down the ivory trade recently, but other than that there’s nothing going on to combat the illegal wildlife trade. President Xi has been cutting back on corruption, which means closing wild meat restaurants. But there’s no re-education campaign to discourage tiger use. In fact, investigations by conservation groups show that government officials are some of the most common purchasers of tiger bone wine in China and other Asian countries. They have no intention of closing this down.

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WHY ELEPHANTS MAY GO EXTINCT IN YOUR LIFETIMENearly a hundred elephants are slaughtered each day in the wild, most for their ivory tusks. This killing of elephants by humans could wipe out the animals in the wild within a generation.

You visited a tiger farm in the Golden Triangle Economic Zone, in Laos, disguised as a prostitute. Tell us about that story and whether farms could be a solution to tiger trafficking.

[Laughs] I was quite nervous about visiting this place. It’s supposed to be a hotbed of crime, drugs, prostitution and yes, illegal wildlife trade. I had spoken with a woman named Debbie Banks, an excellent wildlife investigator working at the Environmental Investigation Agency in London, and she told me the only people who go there who are not Chinese, Vietnamese, or Thai are Russian or Ukrainian prostitutes, or else backpackers. I thought, okay, the former sounds a little bit more fun and I own some scanty clothes anyway, so I’ll go with that. I brought a friend and my husband from New York because I was nervous about going by myself. We wore ridiculous clothes and nobody seemed to notice or care about us, which was great. We could browse through these shops and look at huge quantities of ivory, rhino horn, and tiger products openly for sale, and we dropped by the Kings Romans casino where ivory and rhino horn were also openly displayed. We visited the tiger farm on the premises, where I was told clients can essentially go to shop for what animal they want to have for dinner at one of the on-site restaurants. This was an especially difficult experience for me; there were tigers pacing in small cages yowling mournfully, and a number of bears that were clearly suffering from cage-induced mania.

There’s definitely a constituency of people, especially in China and South Asian countries, who argue for what is called “sustainable use of wildlife products,” whether that’s selling ivory or raising tigers and rhinos for their body parts. But tiger farms have been closely linked with laundering of tigers illegally caught in the wild, then passed off as products. So tiger farms pose a critical threat to wild tigers. That’s not even to touch on the humane animal advocacy side of things. These animals live miserable lives.

It is estimated that 144,000 elephants were killed between 2007 and 2014 for their ivory, a drop in the overall population of 30 percent in just seven years. You attended an ivory burn in Kenya. Set the scene for us and explain the thinking behind this idea. Does it lower trafficking?

The first huge ivory burn took place in 1989. It was organized in Kenya by the paleontologist Richard Leaky. His idea was to create a spectacle that the world could not ignore. And it worked. A few months later it led to nations voting to give elephants the highest degree of international protection, which effectively banned commercial trade of ivory, which was an amazing accomplishment!

Whether the burns lower trafficking is not proven. But it’s not the primary goal of ivory burns; it’s an awareness-raising method to spread the word about the illegal wildlife trade. Another important purpose is to simply get the ivory out of circulation because a lot of the storehouses, particularly in developing countries, are notorious for leaking ivory and rhino horn out. You have 50 tons of ivory that you seize from some criminal and then a few weeks or months later that 50 tons has been reduced to 25, because of corruption. The big message is that ivory should never be traded. It has no purpose at all except for elephant tusks on elephants.

One of the many inspiring activists you met is a British woman named Jill Robinson. Tell us about her and the appalling trade in bear bile.

Jill is amazing. She was living in Hong Kong doing work on cats and dogs, when someone mentioned to her a bear farm for this bear bile trade, and her interest was piqued. She took a tour to a bear farm in mainland China and left the tour group at one point because she heard noises in the basement. She crept down these stairs to a dark room where she found cages and cages of bears in horrific condition, with open wounds. Jill had this moment of connection and wound up dedicating her life to ending bear farming for bile. Her organization, Animals Asia, has saved hundreds of bears from these farms and brought them to rehabilitation sites.

The thing about bear bile is that it’s one of the few traditional Chinese medicines that is efficacious. However, the active component, ursodeoxycholic acid, can be synthesized in a lab so you do not need bears to be put in these awful situations or kept in captivity. The problem is, users in China and Vietnam want this to be a wild, free animal, so they think they are absorbing the essence of this pure, strong thing.

At a conference in London earlier this month, it was suggested that the best way to curb wildlife trafficking, like the drugs trade, was to follow the money not, as is usual, the animal. What’s your view on this? Is enough being done to intercept these illicit funds?

That’s a great point! Definitely not enough is being done because virtually nothing is being done in terms of investigating the financial crime side of things. The problem with the illegal wildlife trade is that it’s so often seen as something in the purview of conservationists, biologists or ecologists. But that’s like giving botanists the job of tackling the cocaine and heroin trade. We need to get criminal experts involved, including money-laundering experts, because a lot of times the punishments that go with breaking wildlife laws are really weak. It’s a $100 fine for trafficking a rhino horn that might be worth $30,000! Money laundering laws would be much stronger. So I think crime is where we should be focusing. We need criminal experts, not wildlife experts, and we need to treat this like any other type of crime, not something special just because it involves wildlife.

There are bright spots in this story. Tell us about the Zakouma National Park in Chad, and what you think the future holds for trafficked animals.

The Zakouma National Park in Chad had an elephant population of around 4,000, one of the biggest herds in Central Africa, but in less than a decade that population fell to around 450. It was being absolutely hammered by Janjaweed poachers riding down from Sudan for this killing spree and taking the ivory back to sell. Everybody had resigned themselves to saying goodbye to those elephants. However, a spectacular non-profit organization called African Parks negotiated with the President of Chad to take over the park. Thanks to their efforts, poaching is virtually at zero, and the elephant population is once again growing. They’re even having new babies, which is huge!

There are other people who are giving it their all to save their countries’ wildlife. Thai Van Nguyen, the founder of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, is a great example. He’s Vietnamese, his organization is entirely run by Vietnamese and he is the only person in Vietnam equipped to rehabilitate pangolins rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Thai brings them back to his facility, rehabilitates them, and when they’re strong enough he and his colleagues take the pangolins to secret locations and release them.

People like Thai are buying time for the rest of us as we get our acts together and decide this is something we want to stop. And that animals are worth saving.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Sudbury police faces backlash after ‘dispatching’ injured bear cub

https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/sudbury-police-faces-backlash-after-dispatching-injured-bear-cub-1.4022677

Molly Frommer talks to Sudbury police about the incident involving an injured bear cub that is drawing outrage on social media.
CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Saturday, July 21, 2018 1:51PM EDT 

The Greater Sudbury Police Service is facing intense criticism after witnesses say two officers shot and killed an injured bear cub without properly assessing whether the animal could be saved.

Local resident Anne Chadwick wrote a post on Thursday about coming across a black bear cub on the highway that had just been hit by a vehicle and abandoned.

She said she and another passing driver helped the bear to the side of the road, where she says it appeared both disoriented and with injuries to its front legs.

They called 911 for help, but she alleges that when two police officers arrived, they didn’t fully assess the cub’s condition but instead retrieved a rifle from their cruiser.

She said she was ordered to stand back while one of the officers repeatedly shot the bear. She said the cub was shot four times before it died.

Chadwick wrote that she was traumatized by watching the animal die in front of her and wondered whether the bear’s life could have been saved.

“He looked well enough that he could have been helped (obviously I’m not a vet and don’t know for certain but neither were those police officers),” she wrote. “At the very least from what I’ve read he should have been tranquilized first.”

Her post has since been shared more than 5,800 times, prompting an outpouring of anger on social media.

The Greater Sudbury Police Service issued its own Facebook post about the incident on Thursday night, saying the officers had no other choice but to euthanize the animal.

“The bear cub was suffering, unable to move and struggling to breathe,” they wrote, adding that the officers “dispatched” the cub in order to end its pain.

The police service said the two officers would not have been able to safely handle or transport the injured animal, and though the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and city animal services were contacted, they were informed that neither agency could come to the scene.

“This is not a situation that any officer wants to be in and the Police Service attempted to find an alternative before the Officers made the decision to dispatch the cub,” the police wrote in their post.

Sudbury District MNRF spokesperson Yolanta Kowalski confirmed that her office did receive a call from the Sudbury police, but said it was “to pick up a dead bear cub from the side of a road.” She said since the ministry isn’t responsible for the removal of dead wildlife, staff advised police to contact the City of Sudbury’s animal control services.

The Greater Sudbury Police Service’s Sgt. Terry Rumford defended the officers’ decision.

“I think we have to remember that these are judgement calls that officers have to make on a moment’s notice. Further, we are not equipped as a police service to transport bears,” he told CTV Northern Ontario.

He added that the police service would be reviewing the incident.

“With these types of incidents where there is community displeasure over certain incidents, we do what is called ‘administration reviews’ and we are in the process of doing that now,” he said.

With a report from CTV Northern Ontario’s Molly Frommer

Bear Attacks Hunter Near Hungry Horse Reservoir

Attack apparently a “surprise encounter” in a very brushy area between hunter and bear

https://flatheadbeacon.com/2017/09/25/bear-attacks-hunter-near-hungry-horse-reservoir/

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reports that a bear attacked a hunter along the East side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir over the weekend.

FWP is investigating the Sept. 24 attack, which took place in the Twin Creek area near the reservoir. The hunter who was attacked – an adult male – was apparently involved in what FWP is initially calling a “surprise encounter” in a very bushy area.

The man was injured, and drove back with his hunting partner to a hospital for medical attention. The two did shoot at the bear during the encounter, and the bear ran off.

The Region One FWP Wildlife Human Attack Response Team was dispatched to the area immediately upon notification. Details about the attack, including the type of bear involved and the injuries the victim incurred, were not yet available.

Poaching ring suspects killed hundreds of animals for ‘thrill of the kill,’

https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/18/us/poaching-ring-charges-trnd/index.html

Poaching photos had been posted on text messages and social media.

(CNN)The suspects documented their kill in graphic photos — grinning near slumped over carcasses, posing with a decapitated elk head and taking a selfie with animal blood splattered over one of the alleged poacher’s face.

Over text messages and social media, the poaching suspects boasted about the animals they illegally slaughtered, authorities say. Some of them even called themselves the “kill ’em all boys,” said Captain Jeff Wickersham from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The suspects were part of a massive poaching ring in Oregon and Washington, who were altogether charged with more than 200 misdemeanors and felonies, authorities say. They are accused of killing more than 200 animals including deer, bears, cougars, bobcats and a squirrel.
Twelve people were charged in Oregon this week. In 2017 and earlier this year, 13 people were charged with misdemeanors and felonies in the state of Washington. Some of the suspects face charges in both states.
Dogs surround a bloody bear.

“A part of it was the thrill of the kill,” said Lt. Tim Schwartz from the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division. “For some of them, it was a competition to see who could kill the most. I think the social media aspect — they were posting this [their kills], getting the attention.”
The suspects bragged about it on Facebook and Snapchat, authorities said.
They “made de facto trophies out of these events” on social media and text messages, said Wickersham. But that ultimately became used as evidence against them, authorities say.
Investigators used the geo-tagged photos to track down the kill sites and find skeletal remains of the animals.
03 thrill for kill poachers

“There is nothing legitimate about the activities these individuals were conducting,” Wickersham said. “They are simply killers. They knew what they were doing. They were not out there for recreation, but to kill things, and that’s what they wanted to do.”
Oregon State Police began its investigation in November 2016 after finding two decapitated deer carcasses. Officers began putting up surveillance cameras to track the suspects.
“This was one of the biggest cases in the state ever, as far as the amount of people involved, amount of violations and number of wildlife taken, “Schwartz said.
He described the case as sickening.
“One of the hardest things for me, as a hunter myself, it was the waste. They (suspects) weren’t making any attempt to remove meat. These guys — it was all about the killing. That’s what was probably most disturbing to us.”
At least five of the suspects appeared in court Thursday, reported CNN affiliate KOIN. They face penalties ranging from fines to jail time depending on their individual charges.

Killing the myth of hunting as conservation

http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/ar-myth-hunting-conservation.html

by Fran Silverman, FOA Friends of Animals
March 2018

The Trump administration is making it easier for Americans to go to Africa, shoot elephants and lions and bring their body parts home as trophies to mount on walls – all in the name of conservation….

Hunter supporters use unscientific bear sightings to inflate numbers and livestock conflicts to scare the public to justify bear hunting.

elephant and calf
Image from Memories of Elephants

If it sounds ridiculous, it likely is. So say this out loud and tell me how it sounds.

Shooting endangered and threatened species will help save them.

Here’s another one.

Hunters are helping keep you safe by killing black bears.

In honor of National Wildlife Week, let’s parse these statements.

Supporters of black bear hunts assert that the bears are a nuisance at best and a safety hazard at their worst. They point to unscientific bear sightings to inflate numbers and livestock conflicts to scare the public. Killing them will solve this, they say. And the hunters then get to take home the bears to mount or use as rugs. Nice reward for saving all of us.

On a national level, the Trump administration is making it easier for Americans to go to Africa, shoot elephants and lions and bring their body parts home as trophies to mount on walls – all in the name of conservation.

The thing is, the science doesn’t back any of this up. This month a new study published in Science Advances found issues with the science cited in the “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation,” which guides hunting policies. The study found that what counts for science is rarely defined. In fact, a majority of the science in management plans surveyed — 60 percent — contained fewer than half of criteria for the fundamental hallmarks of science, which include measurable objectives, evidence, transparency and independent review. The report reviewed 62 U.S. state and Canadian provincial and territorial agencies across 667 species management systems.

“These results raise doubt about the purported scientific basis of hunt management across the U.S. and Canada,’’ it concluded.

The claims of hunting as conservation of endangered and threatened species also don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. There aren’t any documented, peer-reviewed studies that show that lawful hunting does not overall disadvantage the species being hunted. Emerging studies, in fact, indicate that legal hunting can increase demand, promote black-market trade of sport-hunted animals and reduce the stigma associated with killing wildlife.

The African elephant population has plummeted by 30 percent in seven years, with just 350,000 left in the world where once there were millions. The population of lions has declined by 42 percent, with just about 20,000 left. Additionally, a new study by Duke University found that poaching and habitat loss have reduced forest elephant populations in Central Africa by 63 percent since 2001.

Yet, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was lifting a ban on trophies from several African nations and will allow them on a case-by-case basis. This action, coupled with the Department of Interior’s creation of an International Wildlife Conservation Council comprised of hunting industry representatives whose stated goal is to advise the agency on the benefits of international hunting, removing barriers to the importation of trophy-hunted animals, and reverse suspensions and bans on trade of wildlife, sends the message that the only way to save these majestic creatures is to make sure it’s easier to shoot them to death.

On a local level, here in my home state of Connecticut where FoA is headquartered, I listened intently as supporters of a bill to kill 5 percent of the black bear population in the lovely Litchfield County region insisted it was necessary to prevent bear-human conflict. Bears are killing livestock! Bears are getting into garbage cans! Knocking over bird feeders! Scaring hikers on trails! Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!

I’m not making light of a bear encounter. They are formidable. But the science and the math for a shoot-first approach doesn’t add up. First, bears are shy and attacks are more associated with human behavior than the population of bears, studies show. To ward them off if you are a hiker, wear bear bells, carry bear spray. Worried about your backyard farm animals? Install an electric fence. Certainly, don’t feed bears, keep your doors shut and remove bird feeders in the spring.

The truth is black bear attacks are super rare. In the past 20 years, there’s been 12 fatal black bear attacks in the U.S, yet thousands of black bears have been slaughtered in legal hunts. More than 4,000 bears were killed in New Jersey alone since bear hunts were legalized there under Governor’s Christie’s reign before the new governor halted them. In New York, more than 1,000 black bears were killed in hunts last year.

Yet, along with that news in New York about the success of its 2017 bear hunt, there was this item buried in a press release from the N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation: 19 humans were injured by hunters last year and one was fatality shot, a woman who was just walking her dogs in the woods by her house. In fact, between 2011-2017, there’s been 14 humans killed by hunters and 131 injured in New York. In Connecticut, hunters have killed one human and injured 13 between 2011-2016. The number of bear fatalities in both these states? Zero.

The more I dug into fatal black bear attacks verses fatal hunting incidents, the more alarmed I became. In just six states I reviewed where bear hunting is allowed or being considered, there have been 500 humans injured by hunters and 63 killed. The stories are sad. People who were fishing when they got shot by an errant hunter’s bullet. Hunters shooting each other and themselves. And there was Rosemary Billquist, a 43-year-old hospice volunteer who was the woman from upstate New York shot dead last fall by her neighbor.

When FoA testified against a black bear hunt in Connecticut, pointing out the hundreds of injuries and startling number of humans killed by hunters, dispelling the myth that bear sightings at all indicate bear populations and showing there is a weak correlation between the number of bears in a region and bear-human conflict, the majority of lawmakers on the state’s environment committee saw the light and voted down the hunt.

But black bear hunts are still legal in a majority of states. It’s estimated that 40,000-50,000 black bears have been killed in hunts. But the fact is the number of fatal black bear attacks are rare.

Human hunting related deaths and injuries – not so rare.

The number of U.S. residents who hunt is dwindling every year. Yet, the damage they are doing to wildlife and other humans is astounding.

Elephants are becoming rare. So are lions. Shooting them to hang on walls doesn’t conserve them.

The math is the math and the science is the science.


Friends of Animals’ Communications Director Fran Silverman oversees FoA’s public affairs and publications. Her previous experience includes editor of a national nonprofit consumer advocacy site, staff writer and editor positions and contributing writer for The New York Times.


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Hunter attacked by grizzly bear near Ennis

BILLINGS- A man is recovering in the hospital after he was attacked by a grizzly bear while hunting with a friend near the Dry Gulch, Cascade Creek area south of Ennis.

The two hunters were bugling for elk on Monday morning when they came upon a grizzly bear eating a carcass, said Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Chief Information Officer Greg Lemon.

The two men yelled at the bear, and it began to charge, according to a post from the victim’s friend.

The two men attempted to spray the animal with bear spray, but only one man’s spray deployed.

Story continues below

The grizzly bear then attacked Tom Sommer, scratching at the man’s head and shoulders as he tried to shoot the bear.

The bear bit through Sommer’s thigh and then put the victim’s head in its mouth, according to Sommer’s friend.

Sommer was then able to spray the animal with bear spray from about two feet away and escaped.

Sommer was taken to the hospital, where his friend said he received 90 stitches in his head.

It’s unclear where Sommer is from.

Facebook

Lemon said the area where the two men encountered the bear is a very remote section near the headwaters of the west fork of the Madison River.

In the past few years, Lemon said there’s only been a handful of bear encounters in that area.

Lemon said FWP would not attempt to capture the bear because it’s believed the bear attacked in self-defense.

Sommer’s friend posted the photos to Facebook said Sommer was being released from the hospital on Tuesday, though the Madison Valley Medical Center would not confirm that information.

-Aja Goare reporting for MTN News

Romania to kill bears, wolves after rise in attacks

https://phys.org/news/2017-09-romania-wolves.html

Romania on Monday said it would kill or relocate 140 bears and 97 wolves following a rise in the number of attacks on humans, sparking outrage from animal rights groups.

The measures aim to “prevent important damages and protect  and safety”, the environment ministry said in a statement.

A government-appointed commission of scientists backed the move, saying that it did not “endanger the conservation of these two species”.

The decision to let the authorities carry out the killings also “prevents “, according to the experts.

But the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) strongly denounced the measure and blamed the issue on deforestation.

“The authorities should first address the problems that have prompted bears to get closer and closer to  in the search for food,” Cristian Papp, the head of WWF’s Romanian branch, told AFP.

Last October, a similar outcry forced the environment ministry to retract quotas allowing hunters to kill 552 bears, 657 wolves and 482 lynxes.

Romania’s vast areas of virgin forest are home to around 6,000 brown bears—some 60 percent of Europe’s population—which mostly roam the Carpathian Mountains.

In recent months, an increasing number have entered towns and villages looking for food.

In July, two shepherds were seriously injured in a bear attack in the Carpathian region.

A month earlier, authorities were forced to temporarily close the famous Poenari Castle—the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s gothic novel “Dracula”—after tourists came face to face with a mother bear and her three cubs.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-09-romania-wolves.html#jCp

 

A big win for Asian bears and a big loss for bear farmers

A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

For thousands of years, cultures in southern and eastern Asia have reached for bear bile to combat a whole range of aliments. Today, science has shown this wasn’t just superstition: bears are the only mammal to churn out large qualities of an acid shown to help the treatment of liver and kidney disease, as well as severe eye problems.

But in the modern age, the potential medicinal effects of bear bile have led to a rapacious underground of “bear farms” where the animals are basically squeezed like lemons for juice – only here, the process involves invasive, unregulated surgeries where bears are repeatedly tapped for their bile while captive in terrible conditions.

On Wednesday, however, opponents of the bear bile industry notched a significant win in Vietnam, one of the currents centers for farming. In Hanoi, representatives of the country’s Administration of Forestry signed a memorandum of understanding with Animals Asia, a Hong Kong-based nongovernmental organization. Per the fine print, the government and organization agreed to work together to rescue and relocate the 1,000 bears believed to be living on bear farms across the country. The agreement comes after years of campaigning by Animals Asia.

“Crucially, the government has agreed to close the loophole that has allowed bile farming to persist for the last decade,” Tuan Bendixsen, the group’s Vietnam director, said in a statement. With the accord, “they have agreed that there can be no bears kept on farms, because as long as they are there, they will suffer extraction.”

But problems remain, including how a cash-poor country like Vietnam can enforce regulation and also care for the rescued bears. This, coupled with a legal and profitable bear bile industry just over the border in China, could upset any full-court press to eradicate the industry.

Two species, the Asiatic black bear and the sun bear, are indigenous to the region. According to 2002’s “The Bear Bile Business: The Global Trade in Bear Products from China to Asia and Beyond,” medical texts reaching back 3,000 years to the Chinese Ming Dynasty first mention Asiatic Black bears as a species with curative properties. Studies would later tie these medicinal effects to the bear liver’s unique amount of ursodeoxycholic acid, a metabolic byproduct of bacteria in the intestine. In traditional medicine, however, the bile – which is sold both pure in small vials as well as an ingredient in other products – has been labeled a cure-all for everything from cancer to hangovers, National Geographic reports.

Traditional medical beliefs haven’t disappeared from the region due to a helping hand from the state. For the last 30 years, the governments in both China and Vietnam have invested in and encouraged traditional medicine as a parallel health system to the modern approach. The trend continues today: “The number of traditional medicine hospitals at provincial level in Viet Nam has expanded from 53 in 2010 to 58 in 2015,” a 2016 study on the bear industry conducted animal rights group TRAFFIC noted. “In 2015, 92.7 percent general hospitals in the country has traditional medicine department which has increased 3.2 percent in comparison with 2010.”

A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham
A Moon bear is seen at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bears Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

Bear farms reportedly first cropped up in the mid-1980s in China and quickly hopped the Red River south into Vietnam. The practice technically became illegal in the later country in 1992, according to Animals Asia, when the government passed a law requiring state approval to keep bears. A loophole, however, allowed people to have bears as household pets.

The legal gray area, coupled with the state’s inability to enforce the laws, led to a proliferation of bears in captivity on farms. Animals Asia determined that between 1999 and 2005 the number of bears on farms in Vietnam jumped from 400 to 4,000. In 2005, the government again passed legislation, this time outlawing bile extraction. But the agreement again allowed farmers to keep the bears they already had, and the industry continued.

The 2016 TRAFFIC report estimated there were still 13,000 bears in farms across Asia, with 10,000 in China, where the trade is legal. Around 1,000 bears are believed to be still on farms in Vietnam. Anti-bear-bile activists cite the conditions and treatment of animals as ammunition for their arguments. The bile extraction process is ugly stuff. Farmers conduct surgery on the animals to extract the bile, draining the liquid with a catheter or cutting passageways to the gallbladder.

In 2015, when Vice News visited a bear farm in the northern Vietnam “bears sat hunched over in cramped, rusty cages, panting from the heat and humidity. Their excrement sat in piles below each of their cages. The bears were thin and some were missing patches of hair.” A year earlier, Animals Asia toured a facility in Halong City, they found 20 percent of the bears emaciate, many severely malnourished, 20 percent missing a limb, 100 percent suffering from paw injuries from standing on bars.

Wednesday’s agreement between Animals Asia and Vietnam is the second major score for the group in as many years. In 2015, the Vietnamese Traditional Medicine Association promised to stop prescribing bear bile products by 2020. This week’s agreement with the government outlaws the private ownership of bears and calls for the confiscation and resettlement of the 1,000 animals currently living on farms.

The party next must move forward on securing funding for sanctuaries for the rescued bears. Animals Asia does have a location in Vietnam, but the relocation will take more space for the bears. Meanwhile, expert worry the bile market will simply move to nearby Laos or continue to flourish in China.

“This, of course, doesn’t end the work,” Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson said in a statement. “Quite the opposite, but it now means we work together with a common goal – to end this cruelty.

Bowhunter leaves bear cubs without mother

Bowhunter leaves bear cubs without mother

MARK NIELSEN / PRINCE GEORGE CITIZEN

JUNE 2, 2017

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service has rescued one black bear cub and is keeping an eye out for two more after their mother was killed by a bowhunter in the Hart this week.

The sow’s body was found Wednesday off Aintree Drive near the Inverness Mobile Home Park.

Conservation officers found the three cubs up a tree in the vicinity on Thursday and were able to tranquilize one but the other two were too far up for a safe shot so they were left alone.

“I’ve got a couple of residents there who are going to keep an eye out and if they see them and if they are able to, are going to grab them and toss them in a kennel because they’re pretty small,” conservation officer Eamon McArthur said Friday afternoon.

Killing a sow bear with cubs is a violation of the Wildlife Act, as is failing to retrieve a kill. Bowhunting within city limits is legal although the consequences can be stiff if someone is hit by an errant arrow.

Although a warning or a fine is still possible, hunters who kill a sow is asked to report the incident to the Conservation Officer Service so the cubs can be rescued.

“This is relatively close to town and we’ve managed to locate one of the cubs but if this was out in the bush and they just dropped and left it, well those cubs would starve to death, likely,” McArthur said.

Anyone who has information on who is responsible for the death is asked to call the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.

– See more at: http://www.princegeorgecitizen.com/news/local-news/bowhunter-leaves-bear-cubs-without-mother-1.20378863#sthash.dEq564YS.dpuf

Bears, chickens a lethal mix, conservation officer says

by Lori Garrison Friday May 26, 2017

This bear was killed by conservation officers in Hidden Valley May 19 after entering a pen and killing a goat. Another bear was shot by a property owner after it raided chicken coops.

Six bears have been killed in the Whitehorse area in recent weeks after coming into conflict with humans.

Two of the most recent kills — one on May 19 in Hidden Valley and one in Mount Lorne on May 22 — involved bears attracted to livestock, said conservation officer Ken Knutson.

The Hidden Valley bear entered a pen containing two goats, one of which was killed, before the bear was “destroyed for safety reasons” by conservation officers, said Knutson.

The Mount Lorne bear was lawfully shot by a property owner after it raided three other chicken coops in the area, said Knutson. The property owner lost 15 chickens.

Chickens are particularly tempting to bears, Knutson said, because they are high in fat and calories. Once a bear gets a taste for chicken it is very hard to deter them in the future which can be a death sentence for the animal, he said.

“I often say, ‘chickens kill bears,’” Knutson said. “We’ve destroyed many bears over the last five years over chickens. We have yet to see an instance of a bear that has gotten into chickens and doesn’t come back.”

The best way to protect chickens and other livestock from bears — and bears from being shot for eating chickens and livestock — is to use electric fencing, said Knutson.

“A shock from a fence is a deterrent, it’s not a very comfortable feeling … you don’t want to do it again,” he said.

It’s the responsibility of people to try to deter animals from entering their property in search of food, said Knutson. Livestock should be secure and people should take steps to manage bear attractants such as garbage or unlocked outdoor freezers.

“Just because you haven’t had a problem doesn’t mean you won’t,” he said. “No one is immune to bears.”

The number of bear interactions and bear kills from previous years in the Whitehorse area were not readily available for comparison.

Bear-human conflicts can occur at anytime outside of the animal’s hibernation period, Knutson said.

Bear sightings were reported earlier in the month along the Riverdale trail, a popular hiking area within city limits, although those bears — a sow and cubs — haven’t been seen recently Knutson said.

“We haven’t had any calls about that sow in a while — she’s being a good mama and keeping her cubs away from people,” he said.

People can report bear sightings or problem animals to Environment Yukon at 1-800-661-0525.

The department is also currently running a survey on grizzly bear management and conservation. The online survey closes May 27.

“We’re hoping a lot of Yukoners will contribute to it,” Knutson said.

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com