Survey finds medicines from bear parts widely available in Malaysia

TRAFFIC 29 May 15;

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 29th May 2015—A new TRAFFIC study has found that the illegal trade in bear bile and gall bladder for traditional medicine is open and widespread across Malaysia and is potentially a serious threat to wild bears.

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.

At a joint press conference today, the Federation today 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.

Hundreds of traditional medicine shops selling products made from endangered bears
PATRICK LEE The Star 29 May 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Roughly half of over 300 Malaysian traditional medicine shops surveyed in 2012 were found selling illegal items made from endangered bears.

Wildlife monitoring group Traffic found that some 175 of 365 shops surveyed here were selling medicine made from bear gall bladder or bile.

"The rate was highest in Peninsular Malaysia, where 51% of the shops surveyed were found to sell bear products (or 148 shops)," the report named "Hard to Bear" said.

Products sold in these shops were found in many forms including whole bear gall bladders, bear bile pills, bile extract and many more.

Some of these are likely to have been sourced from Asiatic black bears found across East Asia and sun bears found in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia.

Bear gall bladders reportedly sourced from ‘domestic’ bears within Malaysia, found at an unknown traditional medicine shop. Photo courtesy of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

Prices, Traffic found, ranged from RM0.40 a pill to RM3,360 for a whole gall bladder weighing 38g.

While many of these items appear to have been imported, some gall bladders were supposedly sourced from Malaysia.

"Nearly 60% of all bear gall bladders observed for retail were claimed to have been sourced from local bears," the report said.

Some shop owners admitted to Traffic that main sources of bear bladders included native Orang Asli and aborigines from Sabah and Sarawak.

Poachers, the group said, may have also been involved in the killing of bears here, though TRAFFIC said it did not have numbers of how many were hunted.

It is not known how many bears are being killed every year for their body parts, though the number may be anywhere from the hundreds to thousands.

Xiongdan (bear bile) pills up for sale at an unknown traditional medicine shop in Malaysia. Photo courtesy of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

The report added that more than 13,000 bears were likely held in bear farms across China, Laos, Myanmar, South Korea and Vietnam.

According to Malaysian law, the sun bear is a "totally protected" species in the Peninsular and Sabah. It enjoys a lesser "protected" status in Sarawak.

Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which makes trade of the Asiatic black bear and sun bear illegal.