I have previously written that more effort should be put into “saving sun bears”, click here for that blog post.
The international organisation that regulates trade in endangered species, CITES, lists sun bear as threatened with extinction and notes that there is a trade in sun bear ‘body parts’ including for traditional medicines.
Several readers have commented they would like to know more about sun bears. I have no expertise and I don’t know anyone with expertise, but here goes …
An adult male Malayan sun bear grows to about 1.2 m tall when standing on its hind legs and can weigh up to 65 kg making them the smallest bear species.
They live in the forests of south-east Asian and eat a varied diet of fruit, vegetables, meat and honey.
A study of the ecology of the bears in Sabah, Borneo, by S.T. Wong from 1999 to 2001 concluded that the low density of bears in lowland rainforests was a consequence of food shortages during “non-mass fruiting years”.
Many conservation groups claim that the greatest threat to the long term survival of sun bears in the wild is poaching of bears for the traditional Asian medicine trade which prescribes sun bear fat, gall, meat, paws, spinal cord, blood, and bones for complaints ranging from baldness to rheumatism.
Bears are also caught for food, with sun bear paw soup considered a delicacy in Taiwan.
According to the Bagheera website:
“The Chinese have developed a way to extract bile from the gallbladders of live bears. An estimated 5,000 bears are now farmed for their bile. Descended from wild-caught individuals, the farm bears are now captive-bred. This effort is driven more by economics than concern for the animals. More than 100 times the bile can be obtained by milking a live bear than by killing one. Government officials claim that farming has slowed the killing of wild bears, but critics contend it actually promotes the use of bear products and makes them available to more people.”
A 2004 CITES report indicated that some bladders traded [I assume illegally] as sun bear gall bladders were actually from pigs.
The same report noted that some laboratories can distinguish between bile from wild sun bears and bile from captive-bred bears. I assume trade in the wild sun bear bile is illegal while trade in bile from captive-bred bears is legal?
The report included the following snippets of information on trade in sun bears and conservation efforts:
“Indonesia reported that its wildlife law enforcement staff had established good working relations with the country’s Drugs and Food Administration Authority and that they organize joint inspections of relevant shops. The Secretariat has previously reported that working with such agencies seems highly effective.
Malaysia reported undertaking enforcement campaigns that specifically targeted trade in bear specimens. This had resulted in early 2003 in the seizure of 43 alleged bear gall bladders from shops. Six cases involving illicit trade in Malayan sun bear specimens had been prosecuted in 2003. Five of the cases involved bear parts, whilst the sixth involved a live bear.
The Republic of Korea confirmed that the use of a sniffer dog to detect illicit trade at border control points was highly successful, with such a dog in their country detecting 85 cases in just over two years. The Secretariat notes that a survey conducted by TRAFFIC, published in July 2003, found that the use of tiger, rhinoceros and bear specimens in traditional medicine in the Republic of Korea was decreasing, although further work remained to be done on this issue.
Singapore reported that it had produced a leaflet in Chinese, explaining CITES and the use of specimens of endangered species (including bears) in medicine, which it was using to build on work it has done with traditional medicine associations in Singapore.
Viet Nam reported that it is working with non-governmental organizations and captivebreeders of bears to address the issue of bear farms. It has found this issue to be complicated by the fact that bear farms have been established with animals taken from the wild prior to Viet Nam introducing legislation protecting the species. It recognizes that this has adversely affected wild populations.”
Some information on CITES:
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES, is an international treaty designed to control and regulate international trade in certain animal and plant species that are now or potentially may become threatened with extinction.
Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction that are or may be affected by trade. Appendix II includes species that, although not necessarily now threatened with extinction, may become so unless trade in them is strictly controlled. Appendix III includes species that any Party country identifies as being subject to regulation within its jurisdiction for purposes of preventing or restricting exploitation and for which it needs the cooperation of other Parties to control trade.