On Monday, Google Trends showed a sudden increase in the search term “bear gall bladder uses.” As the sale of bear parts is illegal, the upswing in Internet searches is difficult to understand.
There have been two incidents reported in the news recently regarding bear gall bladder products. On Nov. 19, a road crew in Triangle, Virginia (near Quantico), discovered the remains of a bear cub with its gall bladder removed. Then, on Nov. 24, the Vietnamese news outlet VOVNews reported on a campaign to attempt to change people’s minds about the uses of bear gall bladder and bile.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates that a dead bear can bring more than $10,000 on the black market. Bear gall bladder bile is used in Eastern medicine for a variety of ailments, including diabetes, liver disease and heart disease. Bears aren’t the only species that has been targeted by the black market.
In November, the illegal tiger trade became major news. The worldwide tiger population is estimated to be only 3,200, yet reports indicate 1,000 tigers being killed for skins, teeth and other body parts in a 10-year period. Members of the Tiger Range Countries, including Vietnam, India, China and others met, in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the International Tiger Conservation Forum to discuss the tiger crisis.
The poaching of rhinoceroses has increased in South Africa over the last several years. Rhino horn is used in Eastern medicine, and 122 rhinos were killed in 2009. The poachers are assumed to drug the rhino from the air in a helicopter and then cut off the horns with a chainsaw. As of June 2010, at least 117 rhinos had been poached in South Africa.
In 2009, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation arrested 18 people who were part of a ring exporting turtles, rattlesnakes and salamanders overseas for meat and other uses. The charges extended to several other states, including a Louisiana turtle farmer who knowingly accepted poached turtle hatchlings to raise for export to China.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) members agree to restrict trade of wild animals and plants to keep them from becoming extinct. The 175 countries work constantly to track and stop the black market trade in endangered and protected species, but they are battling an estimated multi-billion dollar a year industry.
There is no indication that increased Internet search activity equals an increase in the black market trade in bear gall bladders. When something unusual hits the news, especially as exotic as bear gall bladder, people search to find out why it is important.
Sources: News & Messenger ; VOVNews ; Google Trends ; HSUS ; International Tiger Conservation Forum ; World Wildlife Fund ; South Africa Independent ; NYSDEC ; CITES