Bear bladders become political football for the AZA, HSUS

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1998:

Humane Society of the U.S. vice president
for legislation Wayne Pacelle
claimed a small victory on July 21
when the Senate Committee of
Environment and Public Works
approved S.263, the proposed Bear
Protection Act, which would ban sales
of U.S. bear viscera to foreign buyers.
“Unfortunately,” Pacelle
lamented, “the committee removed
one of the main provisions: a ban on
interstate trade in bear gall bladders
and bile. The weakening was pushed
by Senator Dirk Kempthorne,” also
behind numerous attempts to weaken
the Endangered Species Act, “who is
leaving the Senate to run for governor
of Idaho.”

Pacelle charged that “Both
the World Wildlife Fund and the
American Zoo Association, which do
not oppose the bear gall bladder trade,
gave political cover to Kempthorne by
supporting the weakening amendment.”

Responded AZA spokesperson
Jane Ballentine, aligning the AZA
position also with that of the National
Wildlife Federation, “AZA does not
subscribe to the position mentioned by
HSUS. We are opposed to the illegal
trade in bear viscera, including gall
Testified AZA deputy director
Kristin L. Vehrs during hearings on
S. 263, “The AZA neither supports
nor opposes the Bear Protection Act at
this time. While we support the broad
intent of S. 263, to conserve bear
species, we believe we do not yet
understand the problems facing bears
in the U.S. and the connections to
global bear conservation. Although
significant illegal trade in Asiatic
species of bear exists primarily to supply
the Asian medicinal market, we
have not seen evidence to support the
claim that bears in the U.S. are threatened
by the demand for bear viscera.”
But just this year wildlife
agents have broken up bear gall poaching
and export rings in California,
Utah, and Oregon, each with alleged
links to South Korea, and twice since
1991 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service has intercepted bear viscera en
route from Siberia to Asian medicinal
markets in California, via Alaska––an
indication that U.S. interstate sales are
contributing to the poaching pressure
on Asian wild bears.
EnviroWatch founder Carroll
Cox was lead undercover agent for
first the California Department of Fish
and Game and later the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service during investigations
that smashed some of the biggest bear
poaching rings ever detected during
the late 1980s and early 1990s. The
major markets, Cox told A N I M A L
P E O P L E , were always Asian-style
apothecaries within the U.S., but some
of their clients were visitors from Asia,
especially South Korea, who smuggled
bear parts both for resale and for
personal use.

Hidden motives
Circumstantial evidence suggests
hidden motives behind the whole
S.263 caper. The bill is widely seen as
a publicity gimmick for HSUS and
other supporting organizations: even
if approved by the entire Senate in the
closing months of the 105th Congress,
it has little or no chance of getting out
of the House Resources Committee,
whose chair, Don Young (R-Alaska)
ardently opposes federal restrictions on
trade in Alaskan wildlife. S.263 did,
however, give the AZA a way to slap
Pacelle and HSUS for promoting legislation
in recent years which would
have imposed onerous restrictions on
the exchange of animals among zoos
in the name of discouraging canned
hunts––though the sale of animals
from the 184 AZA-accredited zoos to
canned hunts and hunt suppliers was
virtually halted by amendments to the
AZA Code of Ethics in November
1991. Most of the handful of such
sales since then have involved alleged
fraud, and have brought legal action
by the zoos against the animal brokers.
Taking a non-supportive
position on S.263 also gave the AZA a
chance to rather inconsequentially
reward WWF and NWF for intensively
funding field research by zoo staffs
and new zoo exhibits. WWF, founded
by trophy hunters in 1961 to preserve
trophy hunting opportunities,
and NWF, the national umbrella for
48 state hunting clubs, have courted
the AZA as an ally since HSUS,
PETA, and other animal advocacy
organizations opposed to hunting also
targeted accredited zoos for protest, as
well as so-called roadside zoos, beginning
in the early 1980s.

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