Why It Matters
In the late 1990s it was estimated that 40,000 bears were poached per year in the United States, about one poached bear for each legal kill. Are these figures accurate? Who can know. Were all these bears killed for their gallbladders? Of course not. That being said, there is active trade in gallbladders from North American bears. And as native bear populations in Asia have been reduced, our bears have become another source of gallbladders for a huge international market.
It's not a big problem ... not yet. But in the end, it's about money. The poachers don't get much; most of the profit is taken by the middlemen and the end sellers. In the United States for a gallbladder, a poacher might get $25, a middleman $300, and an end seller $500 to $1000. If the gallbladder is exported, there is another level of markup and profit.
Why does it matter? Bears are part of our national wilderness. They are the apex mammal in our North American ecosystem, and an integral part of our great American outdoors. And they are being illegally killed for profit.
Not only nature lovers, but all Americans should oppose this industry's exploitation of America's wildlife. North American bears being illegally killed as part of this international trade should not be tolerated. Although most states outlaw the sale of bear parts, five states have no laws against this commerce: Idaho, Maine, New York, Vermont, and Wyoming. Eleven more states allow the cross-border trade in bear parts while banning the sale of bear parts taken in that state. For example, in Utah it is legal to hunt bear, illegal to deal in Utah bear, but legal to import bear parts from other states.
The inconsistent nature of these laws can create gaps in enforcement. Many state laws as they currently exist create a high burden of proof that may even require DNA testing of the bear gallbladder for a conviction. DNA testing is complex, expensive, and slow. Because of these legal loopholes, individuals who profit from the bear bile and gallbladder trade do not see these laws as a significant deterrent. Further legislation is needed to help address some of these enforcement issues, and perhaps in the future such legislation will be passed by Congress.