Bladder Control

Bears aren’t the only ones who value their gall bladders.

According to state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials, selling bear gall bladders is a huge local, national, and international business. The organs are smuggled into Asia, where they are sold for $1,000 apiece and used as medicine to treat everything from hemorrhoids to liver disease. But traffickers are hard to catch, in part because bear gall bladders are the size of chicken eggs and can be discreetly disposed of, according to Lori Preuss, the DFW's criminal justice liaison. Undercover sting operations recently snagged two men, however, and they have just received sentences. A Spokane County Superior Court fined Spokane grocer Jason Yon $1,000 after he was found guilty of purchasing four bear gall bladders from undercover officers. And William Page, a butcher from Curlew in northeast Washington, received a one-year jail sentence and a $3,000 fine after he admitted he'd bought 35 gall bladders, 17 of them from undercover officers. The undercover operations were sparked by tips from a hunter who acts as a confidential informant, according to Preuss. The state has gall bladders on hand and available for undercover sale thanks to a special permit that allows hunters to kill bears that have caused damage to crops or livestock. The hunters are required to turn in the gall bladders of the bears they kill. No such provision exists for hunters who kill bears during the twice-yearly bear-hunting season. But it is illegal to buy or sell any parts of an animal other than the hide. The reason, say wildlife officials, is to prevent people from hunting bears—and decimating the species—specifically for the lucrative gall bladders. While Yon and Page were accused only of buying the bear organs, wildlife officials say they believed the men were going to turn around and sell them. Page, in fact, admitted that he had in the past sold gall bladders to Asian buyers, including a client from Korea who flies here once a year. For an idea of the kind of players who move in this international market, check out the January 2010 issue of National Geographic, which profiles Anson Wong, a renowned convicted wildlife smuggler from Malaysia. The article's lead photo depicts a bear spread-eagled on its back, its gall bladder bile being tapped through a syringe inserted into its chest.

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