A young bear is seen in North Conway in May 2016. A congressional panel recently heard about bears being poached for their bile, which has been touted as a COVID-19 cure. (JAMIE GEMMITI FILE PHOTO)

WASHINGTON — House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) conducted a hearing on measures to combat global trafficking in bear parts and halt the trade in primates for use as pets.

Animal Wellness Action and its partners are lead backers of the Bear Protection Act, with H.R. 2264 introduced in 2019 by U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), and S. 3196, led by U.S. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

The bills aim to stop the global trade in bear parts, specifically gallbladders and bile, used mainly in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Some weeks ago, Chinese public health officials included bear bile as an accepted treatment for COVID-19 patients.

“There aren’t enough bears in the world to provide bile to COVID-19 patients, and God help us, if that’s what the patients are depending on when it comes to medical care and treatment,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action.

In addition to sourcing bear parts from poached bears in the wild, wildlife traffickers also draw these parts from animals confined on bear “farms” in China, South Korea, and Vietnam, where the animals are kept in cages or concrete pits and “milked” for their bile.

The Bear Protection Act would forbid selling or buying the internal organs of their fluids. There are eight species of bears in the world, and once gall bladders are extracted from the body of a bear, they are visually indistinguishable in terms of species type.

“Bear bile does not treat symptoms brought about by or cure the COVID-19 disease,” said Rep. Davis and one of the co-authors of the legislation.

“I am deeply disturbed by the trend of poaching bears for their internal organs,” said Rep. Kuster.

“The belief that these organs can help treat COVID-19 is detrimental to human health and only increases the dangers to our bear populations in the United States,” she said.

According to AWA, 40 states have laws on the books to address this trade, revealing the emerging consensus to address this problem. The Bear Protection Act will also address gaps or inconsistencies in state laws. A trafficker in Colorado may face up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine, while a trafficker in Kentucky may receive only a $100 fine.

Federal sentencing guidelines dictate that the market value of the item must be at least $350 for a prosecution under the federal Lacey Act, but the courts attribute the value of a gallbladder to only $280.

The Senate twice passed the Bear Protection Act two decades ago by Unanimous Consent, and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was the bill author at the time.

AWA and its partners also strongly endorse the Captive Primate Safety Act, H.R. 1776, introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and S. 2562, by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, (D.-Conn.) and Christopher Murphy, (D.-Conn.).Connecticut had one of the most horrifying incidents of a pet chimpanzee disfiguring a young women after she came to help calm the animal at the request of the owner.

“Primates don’t belong in backyards or basements, and people who obtain these animals for use as pets put the animals and anyone who interacts with them at risk,” noted Holly Gann, director of federal affairs for Animal Wellness Action.

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