Illegal trade is serious threat to wild bears in Malaysia
In a survey of 365 traditional medicine shops across Malaysia, 175 (48 percent ) 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.
Every State in Malaysia had bear products for sale, especially Peninsular Malaysia, where bear bile pills were the most common item sold, with the States of Kelantan and Johor topping the list.
Nearly 60 percent of 298 bear gall bladders observed for sale were claimed to be from wild Sun Bears killed locally through either opportunistic or deliberate poaching.
Whole bear gall bladders were more frequently observed in Sabah and Sarawak – almost all vendors here claimed that gall bladders observed for sale were sourced locally, as have some Peninsular Malaysia traders.
“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, and carries stiff penalties. The vast majority of shops selling bear products claimed to have ongoing supplies of at least some of the items; 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 continued illegal trade, this study has paved the way for platform for engagement with key players from the health sector to influence change”.
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 recently issued a call to its 43 member associations to stop using parts or products of protected wildlife in their practice and retail outlets.
It also said the continued use of endangered wildlife parts such as bear bile and gall bladder, showed a lack of respect for local and international laws and was not necessary in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine as herbal alternatives were available.
In its dialogue with TRAFFIC, Malaysia’s National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau (NPCB) of the Ministry of Health, that registers all medicines for sale in the country, has assured that the use of ingredients from wildlife parts or derivatives in the formulation of a registered product would be made to comply with wildlife laws.
Since the meeting, the NPCB has also taken action to ensure there are no registered products containing bear bile for sale in Malaysia as it is prohibited under these Acts.
“While the Wildlife Department and the Ministry of Health are to be congratulated for their continued enforcement efforts arising from this study, it is clear there is a long way to go to stamp out the illegal trade in bear parts and products within Malaysia,” said Dr Shepherd.
More frequent checks and prosecution of traders selling bear products and those who supply them was the only way to send a strong deterrent message to illegal traders, poachers and consumers, he added.
“Assistance from within the traditional Chinese medicine community is also essential to end this trade, and TRAFFIC is delighted to have the support and co-operation of the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Associations of Malaysia,” said Dr Shepherd.