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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Despite tough laws, illegal bear trade continues in India: Study

The highest number of bear seizures were reported in Uttarakhand followed by Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra.

Written by Aswathi Pacha | Kochi |
Updated: November 26, 2021 5:08:20 pm
black_bearThe gall bladder of the Asiatic black bear was poached in high numbers for use in traditional medicine (Wikimedia Commons)

Between 2009 and 2019, the number of reported incidents of poaching and seizure of bear parts in India was 149 involving at least 264 bears, notes a new study. The gall bladder of the Asiatic black bear was poached in high numbers for use in traditional medicine, while sloth bears were killed for their skin and claws. The Asiatic black bear Ursus thibetanus, and sloth bear Melursus ursinus are currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Both these species are protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and you can be imprisoned for three to seven years and charged a hefty fine or both for the illegal trade. They are also listed in Appendix I of CITES which prohibits international trade of these species.

“Bears are in a lot of trouble. Their gallbladders and bones are used in traditional medicine, while their meat is served as part of the exotic food industry. People like to buy bear claws, teeth, skin, and skulls as trophies. Some even keep it as a talisman,” says Chris R. Shepherd from the Monitor Conservation Research Society, British Columbia, Canada. He is the corresponding author of the paper recently published in Global Ecology and Conservation.

The team writes that live bear cubs were also traded to be kept as pets or supplied to bear bile extraction facilities.

There have also been reports of international trafficking of bear gall bladders from India into Japan as far back as 1981 as well as into Singapore, Taiwan, China, Myanmar, and Nepal.

In 2012, though a National Bear Conservation and Welfare Action Plan was developed, the extent of the illegal bear trade in the country remains poorly documented.

“Our study tried to address this knowledge gap, but still we don’t have the complete picture of the trade. For example, we don’t have much information about how much these sell for. It could really vary along the trade chain. The hunter might get peanuts for it and the end retailer is going to make the big bucks. There must be various levels of middlemen before it reaches the consumers who will spend a lot of money on these items,” says Shepherd.

Bear seizure and poaching hotspots Bear seizure and poaching hotspots in India based on incidents analysed for the period 2009–2019. (L. Gomez, B. Wright, C.R. Shepherd et al. Global Ecology and Conservation (2021))

The study noted that the highest number of bear seizures were reported in Uttarakhand followed by Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra “This is unsurprising considering Uttarakhand shares a long and porous border with Nepal, a known trade route for other wildlife products e.g. big cat skins reach China,” writes the team.

One of the authors of the study, Tito Joseph from the Wildlife Protection Society of India, says that the Trans-Himalayan land route is a hotspot for illegal wildlife trafficking. “The South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) launched in 2011 has been working with member countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka to combat illegal wildlife trade in South Asia. We work with the local police, customs, and sea guards to enhance wildlife law enforcement,” says Joseph.

Chris R. Shepherd adds that tackling wildlife crime needs a three-pronged approach. “You need strong and effective legislation along with good enforcement and public awareness. The public needs to be aware that it’s illegal to purchase bear parts or to kill bears or own them. But they need to go a step beyond that. They need to be involved — by reporting incidents of illegal trade, raising awareness amongst the communities through schools or other local forums,” he says.

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