Tibetan Black Bear on Verge of Extinction in China: Survey
[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2004/11/22; November 22, 2004.]
BEIJING, Nov 19 (AFP) - Tibetan black bears are on the verge of extinction in China with their population nearly halved during the past decade, mainly due to poaching to extract their bile for medicine, state media said Friday.
A recent survey conducted by the forestry administration in Tibet shows the region has just 7,031 black bears, down from 14,062 in 1994, the Xinhua news agency said.
In some counties, not a single bear was detected.
Ten years ago, the animal, also referred to as the Asiatic black bear, roamed one-third of Tibet.
The Asiatic black bear from Tibet and the Himalayas is now one of the most threatened of the world's six endangered bear species, Xinhua cited zoologists saying.
"The decline in the black bear population is mainly a result of illegal poaching, particularly in the second half of the 20th century," said Liu Wulin, head of the regional forestry survey institute and a wildlife expert.
Despite the animals being under government protection, they are a target for poachers because the bear's gall bladder is prized for traditional Chinese medicine and its fur is coveted by merchants.
Liu urged the local government to raise public awareness on the need to protect the bears and improve local residents' living standards so they would rely less on hunting them.
Black bears are kept by the thousands in China because their bile, extracted from their gall bladders through surgically implanted catheters, is considered a potent medicine.
The number of bears of all species held for their bile in China has soared in recent years, reaching a record 9,000 in 2002, according to animal rights groups.
The bile can fetch up to 1,000 dollars a kilogram (2.2 pounds) on traditional Chinese medicinal markets.
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