Black market demand for bear parts like gallbladders and paws has led to poaching of these animals in Saskatchewan and Canada, according to one man who's dedicated to cracking down on wildlife trafficking.
"Imagine that you have something that has gone extinct just about everywhere else in the world but there's only one place that it's left, and this thing is very much coveted for its medicinal properties," said Sheldon Jordan, who heads up wildlife enforcement for Environment and Climate Change Canada. "This is the story behind the black bear."
Bear trafficking has come onto the public radar after a 55-year-old Saskatchewan woman was charged with seven counts of trafficking bear parts.
Jordan said demand often comes from Asian communities — both expatriates in North America and those living in Asia — but is not limited to them alone.
Bears' gallbladders are actually proven to have medicinal properties, as these create an acid helpful to the human immune system, he said.
"The fact that it can be synthesized chemically doesn't matter. There are some people who really want the wild thing," he said.
He said that, for this reason, all the provinces in Canada have either outlawed or highly limited bear gallbladder possession.
Hunters who bring down a bear must leave the gallbladder in the gut pile, but some may take it and sell it to a middleman for $50 or $100, where it can be eventually sold to a buying community for thousands of dollars, he said.
Bear paws are also in demand, often for use in soup, while the baculum — or penis bone — is also sought after for its perceived medicinal benefit, Jordan said.
Jordan said wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest illegal market in the world, worth roughly $205 billion.
Jordan's federal agency deals with international trafficking, but he said his department works closely with provincial conservation officers that are checking permits and taking apart organized trafficking networks.
Both also rely on the role of the public in fighting trafficking, and call on people to report, even anonymously, when they see poaching, he said.
"It really, really does help us in law enforcement get a hand up on the poachers who are taking our common wealth."