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Trafficking figures ‘staggering’

Trafficking figures ‘staggering’

The illegal bear trade continues across Asia on a “staggering” scale, with Cambodia leading the continent in seizures of bears and bear parts, according to a study from conservation NGO Traffic.

From 2000 to 2011, 190 seizures were made in Cambodia, out of nearly 700 seizures in Asia. Live bears made up 15 per cent of all of Asia’s seizures, with Cambodia leading in this area as well, possibly because the bears were on their way to “bear farms” in Vietnam and China so their bile, popular in traditional Chinese medicine, could be extracted.

A rescued sun bear cub at Takeo province’s Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue centre
A rescued sun bear cub at Takeo province’s Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue centre, operated by Australia-based conservation group Free The Bears. Charlotte Pert

“The number of seizures are a credit to the enforcement agencies, but they undoubtedly only stop a fraction of the overall trafficking because bear products are still widely and easily available across Asia,” Chris Shepherd, director of Traffic in Southeast Asia, said in a statement.

The study notes that Cambodia’s high number of seizures is not necessarily negative. Even though the Kingdom reported 27 per cent of Asia’s seizures, the Kingdom accounted for only 9 per cent of the 2,800 bears, confiscated either still alive or dead and in parts.

The reason behind this is more effective enforcement thanks to NGO initiatives such as Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT), which works with the government to confiscate trafficked animals and was cited as a model program in the study.

Vuthy Ravong, team chief of the WRRT, said he agreed that the team’s mission had been successful, noting that “most of the trade is going further and further underground”.

However, Ravong said that while the government may be able to take over in the distant future, it would “absolutely not” be able to currently handle the effort on its own.

“[In one place] the traders are just 200 metres from the [government] office,” he said.

And even if the crackdown on bear traders continues, the bears’ situation “is getting worse” anyway due to massive habitat loss, said Vuthy Chuon, Cambodia program director of Free the Bears.

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