Bear parts smuggled into Australia, NZ

·2-min read

Researchers say more must be done to stop the illegal wildlife trade after discovering hundreds of bear body parts and products had been smuggled into Australia and New Zealand.

A University of Adelaide study revealed almost 800 seizures of bear body parts and "medicinal" derivatives at airports in both countries between 2007 and 2018.

Dr Phill Cassey, who led the study, said items were from five of the eight surviving bear species including polar bears.

They ranged from "medicinal" products from bear bile facilities in Asia to "hunting trophies" that included heads, skins, teeth and claws from Europe and North America.

"We were surprised. I don't think we realise over the last decade how much demand was being created in New Zealand and Australia," Dr Cassey told AAP.

"We often associate the demand and the problem with the regions that these species are native to, but it is a global problem."

The study said while China and North America were listed as the sources for the majority of seizures, 33 countries were involved in the trade.

With international travel set to open up again, Dr Cassey said more must be done to educate people on the wildlife trade's threat to global bear populations.

"There's obviously Australasians who are partaking in the trophy trade which is causing enormous problems in Asia, Europe and North America," Dr Cassey said.

"Some of it is regulated but so much of it is done from illegal poaching which puts enormous pressure on bear populations.

"We need to build greater awareness because these two countries in Australasia are a substantial part of the problem."

He said airlines and biosecurity agencies from source countries also had their role to play.

"What we need to be doing is looking at where the seizures are coming from," he said.

"It is easier for biosecurity there to make sure these things never get on the plane.

"And the airlines are one of the places where we don't see nearly enough messaging and education.

"They should be preventing people thinking they can get on a plane with these products."

Dr Cassey also called for biosecurity agencies in Australia and New Zealand to be vigilant once international arrivals increase.

"We can always do better. When it starts to open up, are we sufficiently resourced at pre-COVID levels to be aware of these issues?" he said.

The University of Adelaide study paper - in collaboration with the Monitor Conservation Research Society and the Wildlife Justice Commission - was published in Pacific Conservation Biology.

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