In Village of the Ghost Bears, Trooper Nathan Active and his fellow law enforcement personnel must discuss the problem of polar bear poaching, because at least one of the suspects in the arson/murder has been involved in the illegal trade of selling polar bear gallbladders to China...
The Value of Bear Gallbladders
As the book correctly explains, gallbladder bile is highly prized in Chinese medicine. It is considered to be a cure for everything from fever and rheumatism to poor eyesight. Illegal trade exists between Alaska and Korea, and between Alaska and Russia (for eventual sale to China), and it is a lucrative enterprise. The Humane Society of America's website states: "The sum of saleable parts can make a dead bear worth in excess of $10,000. An average sized bear gallbladder commands as much as $3,400 in Asia."
Polar Bear Endangerment
In 2007 and 2008, the U.S. Department of the Interior put polar bears on the "threatened" list of the Endangered Species Act (due to global warming, not poaching). Polar bears are not currently considered endangered. In addition, according to the Humane Society, there is little evidence of polar bear poaching for gallbladders. The species most often poached for gallbladder bile are the brown bear, American black bear, and the Asiatic black bear; some of these bears are also bred in captivity in China for this purpose.
Polar Bear Numbers
Polar Bears International estimates that currently there are between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears in the world. In the Bering/Chukchi Sea between Northwest Alaska (where Village of the Ghostbears is set) and Russia, the Alaskan division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that about 2000 bears are left, and that hunters take 150-200 per year. Alaskan natives are allowed to hunt polar bears for food and skins, but are not allowed to trade in illegal parts like gallbladders.
Protection of Polar Bears
The 1973 Polar Bear Treaty is an international treaty recognized by Norway, Denmark, the U.S., Canada and Russia that helps to protect polar bears by regulating hunting. A further agreement on conservation of polar bears between the U.S. and Russia protects the Bering/Chukchi sea population.
This article was originally published in February 2010, and has been updated for the
January 2011 paperback release.
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