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Topics / WILDLIFE : Arrest Spotlights Unlawful Trade in Bear Gallbladders

July 14, 1994|LISA O'NEILL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In addition to ginseng, one of the strongest and most sought-after medicines in the Asian community is bear gallbladders, wildlife officials say. But there are few bears in Asia, they say, leaving a community with a demand that needs to be met elsewhere.

And, according to wildlife officials, the demand is being met in the United States by people who buy animal parts and export them to Asia.

Case in point: the June 23 arrest of Joseph S. Chang, a 39-year-old Rosemead man who allegedly bought 164 bear gallbladders, with the intent, officials say, of transporting them to Asia for use in folk remedies.

"(We) suspect when a buyer like this obtains bear gallbladders, his best markets are South Korea and China," said Lt. Eddie Watkins of the California Department of Fish and Game. In Korea, bear gallbladders can go for as much as $20,000 at a street price, Watkins said.

Chang, owner of AA Radiator and AA Fur and Leather on East Garvey Avenue, was arrested on suspicion of two felony counts of illegal purchase and sale of animal parts. It is a felony in California to buy or sell bear parts. Chang denied the charges, each of which could mean a year in state prison and a $10,000 fine if he is convicted.

Chang's arrest ended an 18-month multi-state investigation of illegal wildlife trafficking. Officials say that Chang bought the parts from dealers in Utah, Colorado, Alaska and California, and that most of the gallbladders came from American black bears.

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