Wildlife Center: Bear Harvesting Big Business in Virginia

By: Carter Johnson Email
By: Carter Johnson Email

November 29, 2011

Harvesting bear organs may be unfathomable to some people, but according to Ed Clark, the president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, the illegal baiting and killing of bears to sell their organs is not as uncommon as you may think.

"Sadly, that is big business here in Virginia, and it's having a significant impact on certain bear populations," Clark told CBS19.

The wildlife advocate was not surprised to hear that a Nelson County man is suspected of the illegal harvesting of black bears in areas of the George Washington National Forest. Tracy Davis, arrested on charges of animal cruelty and manufacturing moonshine after a raid on his home, was allegedly killing bears to sell their gallbladders on the black market.

Hunters tell CBS19 these practices go against their code of ethics.

"To bait and trap animals, that's really not what hunters are about," said Ike Wright, a hunting safety educator. "They are the type of people who believe in a fair chase."

While the bear population has recovered from previous episodes of poaching, Clark says thousands have been removed from public parks in recent years.

"They have regulated hunting, which can be controlled very precisely by adjusting season limits or bag limits, but this illegal scooping off of certain percentages of the population really actually fluctuates with market price, not with bear population," he explained.

Special agents raided Davis' home last week after filing warrants to search the property for an illegal moonshine still, malnourished animals and evidence of cockfighting and bear baiting. An undercover agent provided a sworn statement that the 71-year-old gave him three bear gallbladders to sell and share in the profits.

Officials say the bear gallbladders are valued for their use in traditional medicine. The bile is popular in countries like Japan for its use in treating health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Bear gallbladders can sell for thousands on the black market, which has lead to an increase in poaching.

"People see, yes, this is a real crime. This is not folkloric mischief," said Clark.

Davis is being held at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail waiting for his first court appearance, which has been scheduled for Dec. 7.

Clark says part of what the Wildlife Center does is assign economic value to animals - at a minimum they value a bear at $1,500. The judge will be able to use this information as a frame of reference should the case go to sentencing.

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