Hunting threatens Tibetan black bears with extinction

BEIJING, Dec. 6 Kyodo

Illegal hunting has claimed more than half the wild Tibetan black bear population over the past decade, reducing the number to about 7,000 and threatening the species with extinction, state media and Tibet advocacy groups say.

Despite antipoaching laws, poachers continue to hunt the Tibetan black bears for their bile, which is sold as medicine worldwide, the official Xinhua News Agency and animal researchers say.

Tibetan officials and researchers say this population drop in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, where the species has seen the biggest decline in numbers, puts the black and dark brown-colored bears on the verge of extinction.

”The Asiatic black bear has the unfortunate distinction of being the bear species most sought after by the Asian medicinal market for its organs’ potency,” the Tibet Central Administration says on its website, using the Tibetan black bears’ alternate name.

”Poachers have devastated the Asiatic black bear population, which is now at a very real risk of extinction throughout most of its range in the near future.”

Bear bile sells — sometimes for more than illegal drugs — throughout Asia, including Japan, as a sexual stimulant, although traditional Chinese medicine does not specifically recommend it.

Poachers also sell bear paws as food and fur for clothing or rugs. Bear parts have turned up in Europe and North America, as well.

Hunting Tibetan black bears began about 50 years ago.

The United Nations lists the black bear as an endangered species over its fragmented range from Iran in the west to Japan in the east. China does not allow hunting of these animals in the wild.

Last year, a private survey found that 8,000 bears were left in Tibet, said He Yong, communications director with the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Beijing.

It is not clear who is taking the bears from Tibet, said Jackson Zee, manager of the fund’s bear sanctuary in southern China or how the bear parts reach consumers. ”It’s a massive trade in wildlife for wildlife parts, so it’s a concern,” Zee said. ”But we aren’t sure where the gall bladders are going.”

Chinese animal advocates know about the bears but feel powerless, said Xu Huai, a senior member of the Capital Animal Welfare Association in Beijing.

”China’s wild animal situation is very serious, and every animal deserves an appeal,” Xu said. ”As far as who can help, only the government departments can do that.”

A Chinese-made movie that won a Golden Horse Award in Taiwan on Saturday has piqued awareness of poaching in Tibet. The 2004 film, Kekexili, follows a group of informal wilderness protection brigade to their death in trying to confront a band of Tibetan antelope poachers.

Chinese farmers also raise thousands of black bears in captivity for their bile.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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