Illegal hunting to meet the demands of the international trade in wildlife and wildlife parts is a major problem facing those concerned with the protection and sustainability of wildlife populations around the world. In some areas poaching is causing a devastating effect on wildlife. Most of the people involved in the trade of illegally hunted animals are the same people involved with organized crimes like drugs and prostitution. They want to be where the money is. There’s money in wildlife and there’s wildlife in the Canadian Rockies.
As wildlife populations diminish in other countries (often as a result of illegal hunting), these criminals turn to Canada as a source of supply. Many Canadian animals are in high demand. Most are killed solely for their body parts. Duane Martin, Law Enforcement Specialist with Parks Canada in Calgary says, “national parks are a supermarket of major trophy heads. We grow them protected and we grow them big. We’ve become a target for these people.”
Trophy heads of Bighorn sheep, elk, moose, deer, goats, and bears all fetch high prices. As do the fetuses, antlers, antler velvet, hooves and tails of deer, elk and caribou, the feathers of eagles and other birds of prey, and the gall bladders, paws, penis’, claws and teeth of bears.
The trade in bear’s gall bladders is a good example.”The bear gall trade is similar to the heroin business in means and ends, except that bear gall is scarcer than heroin”, says Judy Mills of the World Wildlife Funds Traffic U.S.A. The bile from the bears gall bladder is highly valued for use in traditional oriental medicines for the treatment of burns, fever, stomach ulcers, heart disease, cancer, liver and gall bladder problems, and hemorrhoids. Western medical researchers have, in fact, isolated a substance sometimes found in bear bile that is effective in treating certain liver and gall bladder diseases. Although a synthetic version is widely available, demand is still high for the real thing.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) suggests that it’s this demand for gall bladders that is a significant contributing factor that pushed the Asiatic Black Bear to the brink of extinction. Although there aren’t many bears left in Asia, there are an estimated 500,000 Black Bears in North America, many of these in Canada. and throughout the Canadian Rockies.
When the Air India flight from Toronto to New Delhi crashed on June 22, 1985, two suitcases containing dried gall bladders from 1,000 Black Bears was reported lost. The 70 pound shipment was valued at $1,000,000. Like the drug trade, it can be a lucrative business for suppliers able to meet demand.
A few years ago a dramatic decline in previously healthy Black Bear populations occurred in California. The Department of Fish and Game investigated and found that the decline was the result of illegal hunting of bear for their gall bladders.
And, in October, 1991, in Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba, a large 800 pound Black Bear was found dead with a small slit in it’s belly and it’s gall bladder missing.
This incident was part of a larger notion in our society, the recognition that wild species and wild spaces are threatened. Parks and protected areas were set aside to help ensure our sacred trust with wild species. That trust has been violated once again.
– Riding Mountain Superintendent Mac Estabrooks –
According to the Canadian government, there is a growing export market for bear gall bladders… In support of our international obligations under CITES, the federal government will reduce the threats that poaching and illegal trade pose to domestic and foreign wildlife conservation by introducing the Wild Animal and Plant Protection Act. Under this Act federal controls over the import, export and interprovincial transport of wild animals and plants (and their derivatives and parts) will be strengthened, penalties increased and enforcement mechanisms improved.
“In Banff National Park protection of wildlife species depends on cooperation between national, provincial, and international enforcement agencies,” says Keith Everts, Assistant Chief of Heritage Resource Conservation for the park. “Each year a strategy for poaching prevention is prepared and implemented by our field staff. These same wardens patrol throughout the park to protect wildlife. Prevention of poaching is a very high priority.” The fact that we have had very few poaching incidents in the park attests to the diligence of the park wardens and the community.
Strongly supported community-based anti-poaching programs like Banff National Park’s Wildlife Watch and Alberta’s Report-a-Poacher make poachers think more than twice. The Bow Valley community and visitors provide immeasurable assistance to the wardens by reporting suspicious incidents. All reports are thoroughly investigated and often result in the apprehension of criminals.
As with drugs and prostitution, it’s the consumer who creates the demand and is responsible for the problem. As consumers and good environmental citizens it is our responsibility to protect the “sacred trust” by reporting suspicious incidents and by refusing to purchase products made from wild animal parts. Although this may not immediately stem the demand for gall bladders, it will set a good example for the rest of the world to follow.
This article was written by Jeff Waugh in August, 1992.
A serious problem still exists throughout North America.