A Salt Lake man faces felony criminal charges for buying black bear gall bladders from an undercover police officer in two incidents.
No need to read that twice. To be exact, he purchased 15 of the dried and shriveled gall bladders of black bears.What the man bought might sound a little strange, but the reason is more familiar - money. According to investigators from the Division of Wildlife Services, he planned to sell them for at least a 400 percent profit.
The man allegedly told the undercover officer that he planned to sell the bladders in Korea, where they are worth at least $1,000 each, court documents said.
Division of Wildlife Resources detective Richard Ashcroft said the bladders are used for medicinal purposes, although poachers don't just kill black bears for the bladders. The paws are also valuable because of their popularity as a delicacy in Asian countries.
Asian medicines are well- known for using gall bladders of black bears. In order to make medicine from gall bladders, they must be dried out and crushed into powder before they are combined with other ingredients.
The main ingredient in the bladders that's important for medicinal purposes is actually found in the bile - ursodeoxycholis acid.
Also used in Asian medicine are bear paws, teeth, bear fat, spinal cord, meat blood, bones and skulls. Those bear parts are thought to cure or treat fever, swelling, some cancers, burns, internal bleeding, convulsions and stomach ulcers.
And medicine is not always the reason black bear parts are sought. In Taiwan black bear paw soup is so well liked that people pay about $1,500 (in U.S. money) per bowl. On the U.S. streets bear parts are worth more than the price of gold, an ounce of cocaine and heroin, according to a Web site on Asian medicine.
In the United States gall bladders sell for about $20 per gram and are worth more in other countries.
Ashcroft said officials set up the sting, in part, to find out how extensive the poaching of black bears is in Utah.
"It's a concern nationwide (that) of black bears being killed just for the gall bladders," he said. "We don't really know how much of a problem it is here."
The man they arrested and charged with two counts of wanton destruction of protected wildlife, a third-degree felony, wouldn't buy from them a third time.
According to court documents the man bought 13 black bear gall bladders for $200 each on March 15, 1997. On Dec. 14, 1996, at a different address, the man allegedly bought two gall bladders for $150 each. The undercover officer told the man he acquired the bladders illegally, meaning he killed them without the proper permits or licenses, court documents said.
"After the (first two buys) . . . he didn't want to buy from us anymore," Ashcroft said. "We were too expensive, is my guess."
He said they tried to price the bladders realistically so they wouldn't give themselves away or be accused of entrapment by offering "bargain basement bladders."
Ashcroft said black bears are not an endangered species, and in Utah, as in most states, are no more protected than deer. But it is illegal in Utah to trade or sell any part of an animal not approved by the Wildlife Board.
Black bear gall bladders or other parts are not legal to sell in Utah. One can get a permit to hunt a black bear, but the parts can't be sold.
Experts estimate that about 40,000 black bears are killed in the United States and Canada each year. The worldwide population of bears has declined quite a bit because of poaching. In Korea, where black bears were once abundant, they are near extinction.
In China and other countries, people have actually created farms that breed bears so they don't have to illegally hunt them.