Security personnel at Vancouver International Airport made a grisly discovery when they X-rayed a Bristish Columbia man's carry-on luggage and found three foil-wrapped, black bear paws he was attempting to smuggle on a flight to China.
The 39-year-old man was arrested by the RCMP and released after promising to appear in court October 6, where he will face charges under provincial and federal law.
Dave Cox, a conservation officer in British Columbia, told the CBC, "he had three forearms including paws from two different black bears in his bag." The paws were frozen and wrapped in aluminum foil.
Bear paws can bring up to a thousand dollars each and are traded on the black market to people who use them for medicinal purposes and eat them as a delicacy. The New York Times reports, "bear paws are a ritual dish for the Chinese, and are a common commodity in an underground market that sees thousands smuggled annually across the border into China."
"The man could face charges under B.C.’s Wildlife Act, as well as federal legislation used to enforce Canada’s obligations under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora," the Globe & Mail notes.
Fines for violations of the provincial and federal laws could range up to $250,000, with six months in jail for a first offense.
Conservation officers said it's difficult to determine the scope of the problem of exportation of paws, claws and gallbladders of the American black bear from Canada.
The World Wildlife Federation said the decline in the bear population is directly affected by the illegal trade in the body parts of the bear to Asian countries. Bears are farmed in China to produce the much sought after bile and claws.
The Great Bear Foundation says, "The paws of the bear are used for bear paw soup, which is a highly prized Asian delicacy. One bowl of it may cost the patron one thousand dollars or more. Some connoisseurs believe the flesh of the right paw actually tastes sweeter, since they believe that bears favour using their right fore-paw to scoop out honey from the hive with it, and then lick the sweet liquid off the pads."
The conservation officers told news sources they would continue investigating where the man obtained the paws and will attempt to find out what happened to the carcasses of the two American black bears. It is legal to hunt black bear in parts of U.S. and Canada, but it's illegal to traffic in the body parts in most states and provinces.