According to Samantha Bayard, a spokeswoman for Canada’s Department of Environment and Climate Change, poaching has always existed in Canada but it takes a different form today.
Operation Thunderball, which was set up to fight wildlife-related crimes, has recently shed light on modern forms of poaching. The investigation discovered that American black bears were hunted for their genitals. Led by Interpol, the operation uncovered 23 live primates, 440 elephant tusks, 4,300 protected birds and 10,000 turtles across for continents. Interpol also seized 15 penis bones and several genitals of the American black bear, which is one of Canada’s national symbols, in the provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
Needless to say, the hunting of these animals is strictly forbidden and since 1992, Canada has introduced very harsh penalties for those convicted of poaching.
“Black bears are protected by provincial and federal legislation. The Department of Environment and Climate Change enforces the Wild Animal and Plant Protection Act […], which serves, inter alia, to control the illegal interprovincial and international wildlife transportation. Penalties for violating this law may range from 5 thousand to 12 million CDN [€8.2 million], […] as well as prison sentences”, Bayard said.
It seems that it is Chinese traditional medicine that is behind the demand for black bears’ genitals. At least, this is what Sheldon Jordan, the Director-General of the wildlife law enforcement of Canada, told La Presse. In fact, many articles and reports have already reported the enthusiasm of a certain Chinese clientele for the penises and genitals of certain animals. After being killed in Canada, black bears – or at least their body parts – are shipped to China. However, little else is known about the interaction of poachers at the international level.
“The Chinese believe that to revitalise some part of the body, one needs to eat the same organ. […] Eating penises and genitals makes a man stronger and guarantees him a fulfilling sex life”, a client of a Beijing restaurant told 20 minutes in 2013.
Although the Black Bear is not an endangered species, Canadian authorities take the illegal hunting of black bears very seriously. According to Bayard, every effort is being made to prevent them from being poached:
“Recent border operations to intercept black bear parties are a direct result of intelligence gathered by our teams at Environment and Climate Change Canada […]. Our efforts to protect this species and other Canadian species are constantly adjusted to demand and will be our priorities as long as the situation demands”, Bayard stated.
Poaching linked to the Chinese market is far from a new phenomenon. In November 2018, China banned and re-authorised the rhinoceros horn trade on its territory. It’s believed that the horn of this animal can prevent cancer. Many animal welfare organisations were outraged by Beijing’s move. According to Le Monde, in 2018, Chinese traditional medicine generated about $38 billion [€34 billion] this way. Animal advocates even speak of a “Chinese traditional medicine lobby”, which attempts to curb, as much as possible, the actions of the Canadian authorities:
“The Department of Environment and Climate Change works closely with its national partners such as the Canada Border Services Agency, the Provincial and Territorial Wildlife and the Natural Resources Agencies. The Department is also working with international organisations, like Interpol, and certain importing countries to stop this illegal trade”, Bayard said.
This news comes at a time when Canada-China relations are at a low ebb. Since the arrest of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, the two countries have been at loggerheads. And despite the indignation of animal rights activists, Canadian officials are unlikely to make this story a priority in their dealings with their Chinese counterparts.