By Beth Eisenstaedt - Assistant Director of Development
While out on patrol on September 23, 2012, rangers from the Koh Pao ranger station stopped a boat carrying three women, a young man, and a small child. As part of their patrol operations, the team stops all river traffic and searches boats and rafts for any illegal materials. After searching through their bags, they uncovered four bear paws that the women were taking to sell on the black market. The paws were confiscated and they were all taken into custody immediately. The court let one of the women go after it was decided she was an innocent passenger, but the other women and the young man all face jail time. Article 97 of Cambodian Forestry Law states that they could be sentenced to as many as 10 years in prison for this offense. As Koh Pao station is located mere miles from the Thai border, they are often catching offenders trying to smuggle wildlife across state boundaries.
Demand for bear parts on the international black market is high and poachers and traffickers can fetch a high price for paws, hides, and gallbladders. Paws are often used in traditional Asian medicine and are considered a delicacy in soup. It is thought that eating bear paws can increase strength. Because of this active trade in bears and bear parts, their populations – especially in Southeast Asia – have been decimated. Bear species native to Cambodia like the Malayan sun bear and Asiatic black bear are both listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, due in no small part to poaching and trafficking. Wildlife Alliance has been working since 2001 to end the trade of wildlife in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia. Our efforts have not been entirely unsuccessful – one will rarely see bear paws being served in restaurants in Cambodia anymore. However, the international demand remains high and we must continue to do everything we can to ensure the long-term survival of bears in Southeast Asia.
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