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Wildlife Trade Specialists

Bear gall bladders contain bear bile, which is still used medicinally despite the ready availability of synthetic equivalents © C. Yeong/TRAFFIC

Bear gall bladders contain bear bile, which is still used medicinally despite the ready availability of synthetic equivalents © C. Yeong/TRAFFIC

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Published 27th January 2017

New study finds gall bladder the main draw for Myanmar bear poachers

Myanmar, 27th January 2017 — Discussions with 40 bear poachers across Myanmar has revealed that they primarily illegally kill bears to supply the trade in gall bladders.


The study, initiated by TRAFFIC, analysed data derived from interviews with self-declared bear poachers from 23 separate villages across nine States in Myanmar. Most of the poachers (38 of the 40) stated they largely hunted bears to obtain gall bladder, and to a lesser extent paws and cubs. 

Demand for bear parts, like the gall bladder and paws, is driven primarily by China said the report “Assessing the illegal bear trade in Myanmar through conversations with poachers: Topology, perceptions and trade links to China”, published in the journal Human Dimensions of Wildlife.

It also reports that bears are poached opportunistically, mostly using snares. While the meat of the bears killed tends to be consumed by the poachers, the more commercially valuable parts like the gall bladder and paws are traded. Bear cubs are coveted too, considered a valuable commodity for commercial trade, often to stock bear bile farms. 

“Understanding the intricacies and economics of the international wildlife trade is paramount if we want to curb the illegal trade,” said Vincent Nijman, Professor in Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University and co-author of the study. 

Despite bears being a protected species in Myanmar, it is clear that bear poaching across the country continues without fear of repercussion and that at least part of this is driven by demand from across the border.

Vincent Nijman, Professor in Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University

Indeed a worrying sign is that most of the poachers interviewed agreed that populations of bears appeared to be declining with fewer bears now in the area where they were living compared to five years ago.

“The illegal trade in bears and their parts in Myanmar requires more focused efforts from the Myanmar authorities,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. 

“Increased law enforcement and effective prosecution is essential if trade networks and markets are to be shut down.”