The poaching problem: Not just gall bladders | SierraSun.com

The poaching problem: Not just gall bladders

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

The dead bear found near Truckee with its gall bladder removed is only one small example of a growing problem in California.

Bear gall bladders, along with striped bass, sturgeon roe, abalone, and other animals are being poached in the state to the tune of about $100 million a year in black market profit, according to a World Wildlife Fund study.

And black bear poaching for gall bladders seems to be on the rise, said Nancy Foley enforcement chief for the California Department of Fish and Game.

“Bear gall bladders are probably really big in this area,” Foley said.

Working undercover, her agents sold a gall bladder for $500 in California, she said.

“The guy didn’t even blink an eye paying that much ” and he already had a ticket to Asia,” Foley said.

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Once the gall bladder reaches Asia, Foley said the powder or liquid extracted from the organ sells for $2,000 per ounce.

Overseas, Foley said bears are tightly caged with tubes running to their gall bladders, milking them daily for the prized bile, which in certain cultures has medicinal value.

But wild bear gall bladder is more prized than that from caged animals, so poaching continues to be a profitable business, she said.

“What it really comes down to is if there is a market somebody is going to take it because somebody is going to buy it,” Foley said. “If we don’t do something about it we don’t know where the breaking point is.”

Bear poaching isn’t the only problem the Department of Fish and Game faces in the Truckee-Tahoe area, Foley said, as deer are poached regularly too.

Foley said the Department of Fish and Game, now down to only 370 game wardens statewide, needs the public’s help.

Many offenders in wildlife crimes aren’t prosecuted to the full extent of the law, so contacting state government or making wildlife crime an issue when a judge or district attorney is elected helps, Foley said.

And people can report poaching for free and anonymously at 1-888-334-2258.

An investigation is still underway on the bear found killed and with gall bladder removed on Highway 89 South Aug. 19.

Investigators determined the organ was surgically removed from the 200- to 300-pound bear sometime in the night, apparently after being struck by a vehicle, said Mark Lucero, patrol captain with the Department of Fish and Game.

Nancy Foley, enforcement chief for Fish and Game, said she found the incident suspicious, since surgical equipment was used to remove the bear’s organs.

A rubber glove found alongside the bear has been sent to the Department of Justice for prints, he said.

“We’re trying to locate the vehicle that hit the bear, we understand it was called in to the [California Highway Patrol],” Lucero said.