A total of 213 bear paws were seized at the China-Russia border. Chinese officials arrested two Russian citizens for the transport of illegal parts. The paws are estimated to be worth over $450,000.
Residents in China often seek bear parts as they are used in traditional medications. However, the possession, transport, and sale of bear parts is illegal in China. Examination of the paws revealed that they belonged to brown bears, which are listed as a protected species.
As reported by BBC, officials became suspicious of the men as they acted nervous during a routine border check point.Their behavior prompted a thorough search of the vehicle.
The inspection included a vehicle x-ray and removal of the tires. Authorities recovered a majority of the paws from the van's wheel wells.
The bear paws were seized and the two men were detained by border officials.
Despite being illegal, the trade of illegal animals has continued to increase throughout the years. Zhang Xiaohai with the Animals Asia Foundation explains the popularity of bear paws:
"The demand is huge... more people can afford them... the country has the tradition to treat bear paw as a rare ingredient for cuisine or as an expensive present."
As reported by International Business Times, medicines prepared with bear paws are thought to relieve rheumatism.
Trafficking in bear paws can lead to hefty fines and jail time. in 2008 a group of six smugglers was discovered in the China-Russia border. Authorities seized nearly 500 bear paws that were destined for China. The leaders of the group were sentenced to spend eight years in jail for the crime.
Contrary to Chinese law, the sale of bear parts is not forbidden in the US. As reported by BigWildLife.org, it is estimated that 80,000 black bears are killed every year, in the US, for parts. The parts, including hides, gallbladders, bile, and paws, are sold internationally to support illegal trade.
The bear paws seized at the Chinese border will not lead to a profit for smugglers. However, thousands of other bear parts will continue to cross the borders to meet the high demand.
Picture of the seized bear paws.
[Image via Flickr]