State tries to curb illegal trade in bear paws and gall bladders.
North Country Taxidermy in Keene does a steady business in mounted deer heads, stuffed mammals, skulls, horns, and fur rugs and blankets. Black-bear gall bladders are a lesser-known commodity. Bud Piserchia, who owns the shop, acquires as many as 150 gall bladders during the fall hunting season. “We’re one of the largest buyers in the East,” he said.
He sells them mostly to Koreans from New York City, who make the pilgrimage north to buy the small organs for $25 to $35 an ounce. The gall bladders are dried and ground into powder to treat a variety of ailments. “We have some people come in to buy twenty galls or more, and obviously they are a dealer,” Piscerhia said. “We also have Ma and Pa come up, and they’ll buy two galls. That’s obviously for their own consumption.”
Gall bladders are harvested all over the world, and black bears are actually farmed for their parts in China and other areas in Asia. Bear paws are also prized for Chinese soup. Until this year, New York was one of the few states in the country where the trade in bear parts was unregulated.
A new state law is designed to stop the sale of parts from poached bears. While the sale of parts is still allowed, hunters now have to document that they were taken legally. Hunters and dealers caught with undocumented paws or gall bladders face fines of up to $5,000. (Piserchia said he already had been tracking the provenance of bear gall bladders bought and sold in his shop.)
Lawrence DiDonato, a captain with the state’s environmental-conservation police, says the lack of oversight meant wildlife biologists had no way to gauge the extent of illegal smuggling. “We received sixty-six complaints since 2008 about [black bear] poaching in general,” he said. “We have documented at least some cases where bears have been killed and just paws and galls have been taken.”
DiDonato keeps photographs of butchered bear paws found in an Asian food market in Brooklyn last year, along with another picture of a cub carcass stripped of its paws and gall bladder. The rest of the animal was left to rot. Before the rule change, he said, wildlife officials worried that bears might also be poached in neighboring states like Vermont and Pennsylvania and then sold in New York City’s Asian neighborhoods, where parts from a single animal can fetch up to $1,000.
Hunters didn’t raise objections to the new rules, but Bob Brown of the New York State Conservation Council says he doubts poaching for animal parts was a serious problem in the Adirondacks. Black bears are just too hard to hunt, Brown says. And he thinks the price for bear parts—a few hundred dollars for an animal wholesale—isn’t high enough to justify the effort.
Heidi Kretser, with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program, says the new rule requiring that all bear parts be clearly labeled and documented will help clarify how much illegal trade is going on. “What we don’t know, we don’t know. Poaching could be going on right under our noses, and we just have no idea,” she said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the poaching of grizzly and black bears for Asian markets has been a problem for years, with recent prosecutions in the Pacific Northwest and several southern states. Some environmentalists wanted New York’s legislature to ban the trade altogether, but officials say black-bear populations are stable and even growing in some parts of the state.
Piserchia said he thinks a legal market for bear parts should be allowed. “The state of New York wants to utilize the entire bear,” he says. “They don’t want anything thrown away. It’s a resource, whether it’s the hide, the claws.” ■