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Illegal trade of sun bear parts in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak

Lalita Gomez*, Chris R. Shepherd, Min Sheng Khoo

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Malaysia is a known source and consumer of bear bile products in Asia and sun bears are persistently poached to meet the demand for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Surveys of TCM outlets in the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak were conducted in 2018 and 2019 as part of continuing efforts to monitor the availability of bear bile products in the country. Despite being illegal, the trade in bears and their parts persists, although with fewer TCM outlets offering such products in comparison to past studies. In 2012, 42% of TCM outlets in Sabah and 35.4% in Sarawak were found with bear bile products. This has since dropped to 35% in Sabah and 19.3% in Sarawak in 2018/2019. Gall bladders were the main type of commodity for sale in both states, which were reportedly sourced predominantly by indigenous people. It was evident that most retailers surveyed were aware that the trade in bears and their parts was strictly prohibited and some traders claim to have stopped selling illegal bear products for this reason. On the other hand, some traders continuing to trade in these illegal commodities have become more discreet. These factors contribute to the reduction in TCM outlets observed selling bear bile products. There is also the possibility that this reduction is due to diminishing sun bear populations. This is attributed to traders who claimed to have stopped selling bear bile products due to the rarity or difficulty in procuring genuine bear gall bladders. The threat of illegal trade, combined with loss and degradation of suitable habitat and food resources as well as conflict with humans, puts sun bears at considerable risk. Efforts to mitigate these threats are urgently needed. Reduction of demand for bear parts is essential, as is stronger legal protection, enhanced enforcement and increased community involvement in bear conservation actions to ultimately ensure the long-term survival of viable bear populations in Asia.