MAY 30 — The discovery of a caged sun bear in a shop lot in the urban heart of Johor Baru earlier this month is an important reminder that illegal wildlife trade isn’t just about poachers and traffickers; it is also about the consumers that drive the trade.
Orders of bear paw soup and demand for medicines made from bear bile keep those poachers and traffickers in the business of setting snares in Malaysia’s protected forests and sneaking dead bears or their parts out to buyers locally and abroad.
The fact that international conventions and Malaysian law prohibit commercial trade in sun bears or their parts and products has not, it seems, dampened the consumer demand for this totally protected and threatened bear.
TRAFFIC’s research on the availability of bear bile products in the traditional Chinese medicine trade in 2010, ranked Malaysia as 4th among the 13 Asian countries and territories surveyed.
The Department of Wildlife and National Parks has, over the years, seized dozens of frozen bear paws and meat destined for restaurants around the country. By TRAFFIC’s account of published reports, some 185 bear parts have been seized in the country between 2003 and 2011.
This includes at least 4 whole animals and 82 paws or limbs.
Continuing demand is also behind the more recent finds of sun bear carcasses in wire snares and even live bears still snared or trapped in forests along the Gerik-Jeli highway, and in the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex.
Consumers may be able to ignore the sad photographs of dead and injured bears, and pay no heed to efforts to educate them on the impact of their illegal purchases on wild sun bear populations.
However, they cannot disregard the heavy penalty imposed on those who continue to support this illegal trade.
So, we congratulate the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Johor on the successful arrest and prosecution of the Johor man found in possession of the sun bear. We hope that the RM35,000 fine issued for the offence serves as a wake-up call to consumers who are still driving the trade.
* Dr Chris R. Shepherd is regional director for TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.