Smuggling bear parts in Australia and NZ

Asiatic black bear in a cage. The sad reality of the illegal wildlife trade. Photo by yongkiet - iStock

Asiatic black bear in a cage. The sad reality of the illegal wildlife trade. Photo by yongkiet - iStock

Australia doesn’t have any native bears, yet our involvement in the illegal trade of bear parts and products is sadly a different story. 

In a paper published in Pacific Conservation Biology, researchers from the University of Adelaide in collaboration with the Monitor Conservation Research Society and the Wildlife Justice Commission examined the demand for bear parts and products in Australia and New Zealand.  

They found that between 2007 and 2018 enforcement agencies had made almost 800 seizures of bear body parts and medicinal derivatives smuggled into both countries from at least five of the eight surviving bear species – including polar bears. 

Lead author Dr Phill Cassey from the University of Adelaide said: “While neither Australia nor New Zealand have any native bear species it is clear that there is still demand for bear products outside their native habitat. 

“Most of the seized products were from traditional medicines, and bear bile farming is a particularly insidious threat to the conservation and welfare of bears globally. However, a large number of seizures were also hunting trophies and bear body parts – including teeth and claws. 

“This study illustrates the international nature of illegal trade in bear parts and products and the need for increased international effort to eliminate this crime,” said co-author Dr Chris Shepherd from Monitor Conservation Research Society, based in Canada.   

While China and North America were listed as the sources for the majority of seizures, 33 countries from all continents except Antarctica were involved in the trade. Bears are sourced from the wild, in some cases via bear bile extracting facilities, commonly known as bear bile farms.  

Dr Cassey said: “Our study highlights that the threat to bears through demand for bear parts and products is not limited to the country where they are native, but also through illegal trade in non-range countries. 

“It is important that Biosecurity and Environmental Enforcement Agencies in Australia and New Zealand are supported in their roles to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products and work with source countries to combat wildlife smuggling.” 

The Illegal wildlife trade and unsustainable use of biological resources is increasing rapidly and constitutes one of the greatest threats to biodiversity and environmental security globally.  

The trade itself includes tens of thousands of species and millions of individual animals and plants. Species are traded for a huge variety of purposes, for use in traditional medicines, as luxury ornaments, hunting trophies, for the fashion industry as well as live specimens for pets.

Tagged in Research, School of Biological Sciences, Environment Institute, Environmental Science, Ecology