In recent years there has been an increase in the number of illegal operations marketing in black bear parts, especially gallbladders. The illicit trade in black bear parts is a decades long global problem that is responsible for the decimation of Asiatic black bear and is increasingly targeting North American black bears.

Bears throughout the world are exploited for the bile found in their gallbladders, which is considered a prized ingredient in some forms of traditional Chinese medicine. Asiatic black bears in China, South Korea, and Vietnam also suffer on bile farms, where they are kept in small cages and painfully “milked” for their bile for the duration of their lives. Wild bears have also been targeted, as their bile is considered more potent. As a result, American black bears, whose population is still healthy, are the new target of both legal and illegal hunting and trade of their parts.

Black bear paws confiscated recently in anti-poaching investigation in Canada.

“We do not subscribe to the commercialization of wildlife because it eventually leads to an unlawful activity. The drain on wildlife resources because of all the various markets and demands for either wildlife or parts is tremendous. We would support a law banning the commercialization of black bear parts and any other law that addresses the unlawful traffic in wildlife.” J.R. Fagan, Director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission Bureau of Law Enforcement

Between 1997-2006 the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFW) said it would establish a monitoring and tagging program for the sale of all bear parts to evaluate sale levels. After VFW conducted a survey of successful bear hunters that indicated that, “bear hunters fully utilized harvested bears” VFW concluded that the sale of gallbladders was found to be insignificant and not a threat to the state’s healthy bear population. The department also said a tagging and monitoring program was not necessary.

Although the sale of gallbladders has been deemed to be insignificant, the agency however stated, “The Department will continue to monitor the sale of black bear parts. If trends and activity in the sale of bear parts, particularly gallbladders, is found to be detrimental to Vermont’s bear population or pose a threat to bear populations in other parts of the world, it may propose further regulation or prohibition of such sales.”

According to the U.S. Justice Department and Canadian news reports, the illegal trade in black bear gallbladders and other parts continues to be a problem made no easier by the legal allowance of bear part sales by a handful of states including Vermont. Such allowances create a legal conduit for the trafficking of illegally obtained bear gallbladders. Keep in mind that there is no tagging or labeling system that would differentiation between legal and illegal gallbladders or other parts. While it would be illegal to transport any bear to a state where commerce in bear parts is allowed, this is virtually impossible for law enforcement officials to prove. 

Seized black bear gallbladders in Quebec.

The impossibility of distinguishing the gallbladder of a California black bear from an Idaho black bear, or any other state’s bear population enables smugglers to acquire gallbladders illegally in one state, transport them to a state where commercialization of bear parts is legal, and sell the gallbladders under false pretenses. Even wildlife enforcement officials in states which allow trade of bear parts (such as Idaho) recognize the deleterious impact such legal trade may have on other states’ law enforcement efforts and bear populations. Ray Lyon, Enforcement Assistant Chief for Special Operations in Idaho’s Fish and Game department, acknowledges that “Idaho is one of the states that still allows the sale of bear and other animal parts. We realize that there is some illegal killing of bears promoted by our laws.”

In the United States, a patchwork of state laws governing bear part sales exists. Currently, thirty-three states prohibit commercialization of bear gallbladders, while a small minority of states including Vermont, allow unfettered trade. The remainder either allow selling or buying galls if they come from bears killed in another state or have no such laws because of no black bear population.

Please join Vermont Wildlife Patrol in our current effort to prohibit the sale of black bear gallbladders in Vermont. We are asking supporters to respectfully request that Commissioner Christopher Herrick recommend to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board that the sale in black bear internal organs be prohibited.

Email for Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, Commissioner Christopher Herrick:

“The poaching of bears is a national problem that is destined to become worse, and I believe that we have a real opportunity, if we act now, to protect the bear populations in this country from individuals seeking to profit from the slaughter and sale of the organs of these magnificent animals.” US Senator Mitch McConnell

For More Information on the illegal black bear trade:

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