Animal Wellness Action Calls on Congress to Move Both Key Wildlife Measures
Washington, D.C. (June 25, 2020) — House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva and Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman, D-Calif. conducted a hearing on measures to combat global trafficking in bear parts and halt the trade in primates for use as pets. Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation, the Center for a Humane Economy, and SPCA International endorsed both measures and urged that the full committee and then the House act on the measures and send them to the Senate. Former California Fish and Game Commission chairman and former federal wildlife agent Mike Sutton testified in support of the bills on behalf of Animal Wellness Action and other groups, saying the “announcement by Chinese government officials that bear bile can be used as a treatment for COVID-19 was an ominous signal that demand for the parts of bears may surge and put enormous pressure on bears in the wild.”
Animal Wellness Action and its partners are lead backers of the Bear Protection Act, with H.R. 2264 introduced in 2019 by U.S. Representatives Ted Lieu, D-Calif.; Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Annie Kuster, D-N.H., and Glenn Thompson, R-Penn., and S. 3196, led by U.S. Senators John Kennedy, R-La., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.. The bills aim to stop the global trade in bear parts, specifically gallbladders and bile, used mainly in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Some weeks ago, Chinese public health officials included bear bile as an accepted treatment for COVID-19 patients.
“There aren’t enough bears in the world to provide bile to COVID-19 patients, and God help us, if that’s what the patients are depending on when it comes to medical care and treatment,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “The very few opponents of this bill, under the false pretense of state management authority, are in practical terms running interference for global poaching syndicates. The states and the federal government must both be pro-active to stop global poaching.”
In addition to sourcing bear parts from poached bears in the wild, wildlife traffickers also draw these parts from animals confined on bear “farms” in China, South Korea, and Vietnam, where the animals are kept in cages or concrete pits and “milked” for their bile. The Bear Protection Act would forbid selling or buying the internal organs of their fluids. There are eight species of bears in the world, and once gall bladders are extracted from the body of a bear, they are visually indistinguishable in terms of species type.
“Bear bile does not treat symptoms brought about by or cure the COVID-19 disease,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-IL, and one of the co-authors of the legislation. “China’s recent decision to recommend bear bile as a COVID-19 treatment will only lead to increased poaching and threatens the already-unstable bear populations across the world. Using a small part of a bear as a purported treatment to a widespread, global pandemic instead of other known treatments is reckless and puts humans and multiple species of bears at risk.”
“I am deeply disturbed by the trend of poaching bears for their internal organs,” said Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, a cosponsor of this legislation and a member of the Animal Protection Caucus. “The belief that these organs can help treat COVID-19 is detrimental to human health and only increases the dangers to our bear populations in the United States. Congress must act quickly and pass the bipartisan Bear Protection Act. I commend the House Natural Resources Committee for including this bill in today’s hearing.”
There are 40 states that have laws on the books to address this trade, revealing the emerging consensus to address this problem. The Bear Protection Act is needed to make a global statement about the trade from the United States, and to address gaps or inconsistencies in state laws. A trafficker in Colorado may face up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine, while a trafficker in Kentucky may receive only a $100 fine. Federal sentencing guidelines dictate that the market value of the item must be at least $350 for a prosecution under the federal Lacey Act, but the courts attribute the value of a gallbladder to only $280.
The Senate twice passed the Bear Protection Act two decades ago by Unanimous Consent, and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was the bill author at the time.
AWA and its partners also strongly endorse the Captive Primate Safety Act, H.R. 1776, introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., and S. 2562, by Senators Richard Blumenthal, D.-Conn., and Christopher Murphy, D-Conn. Connecticut had one of the most horrifying incidents of a pet chimpanzee disfiguring a young women after she came to help calm the animal at the request of the owner.
“Primates don’t belong in backyards or basements, and people who obtain these animals for use as pets put the animals and anyone who interacts with them at risk,” noted Holly Gann, director of federal affairs for Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation. “Most states ban keeping primates as pets, and Congress should pass a complementary law to end this reckless trade.”
“With all that we know about keeping wild animals in captivity as pets, and the safety risk it poses to both humans and animals, we urge congress to move quickly toward a national ban to catch up with many individual state laws to end interstate primate commerce and private ownership,” noted Meredith Ayan, executive director, SPCA International