Tuesday, April 16, 2013

1995-12-02 "Animal Parts For Sale, And It's Legal"

December 2, 1995, Saturday
The Vancouver Sun, p. B2
by Nicholas Read

Animal parts for sale, and it’s legal

At Hang Hing Herbal Medicines at the corner of Pender and Gore, they openly sell medicinal products made of snake gall, tiger bone seal penis and bear bile. Some of the packages have a picture of a tiger on the front, and the snake, tiger, seal and bear ingredients are listed on the back.

However, on one set of the packages, which says “Tiger bone” in Chinese characters, an English message has been affixed. It says, “Excluding any part of tiger”.

It’s an obvious contradiction, but z store clerk confirms it. No, he says, there is no snake gall, tiger bone or bear bile in any of the products for sale, even though they are listed clearly on the packages.

Anthony Marr isn’t surprised. He says Vancouver’s Asian residents have become sensitive to criticism that medicines made from exotic, endangered animals, as well as local bears, are available in their pharmacies. So, it’s not surprising that they make such claims.

Marr, a longtime environmentalist, is of Chinese descent himself. He was born in China, brought up in Hong Kong, and moved to Vancouver when he was 21. So he is still fluent in Chinese, and can read easily all the package labels that English-only-speaking Canadians can’t.

Thus he finds in another pharmacy an arthritis medicine made of tiger bone. In the aphrodisiac case - labeled “fierce male” in Chinese - he finds packages containing three different kinds of animal penises - seal, bull and dog.

In another pharmacy, there are numerous kinds of deer antlers for sale, even antelope horns.

However, none of these products is illegal to sell, unless the bear bile is from a Canadian bear. Because even though it is against international law to import into Canada parts of animals as critically endangered as the tiger, once they have been smuggled in, there is no internal Canadian law to render them illegal to sell.

In 1992, Ottawa passed a law called the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA), which, if enacted, would make it illegal to sell tiger products. But after three years of bureaucratic wrangling, it’s still not law, which means selling tiger products is still okay.

At least legally. Ethically is another matter, says Marr, which is why he is launching a campaign to persuade Vancouver’s Chinese residents to shun the use of exotic animal parts, including tiger bone and bear gall, in traditional Chinese medicine.

With help from the conservation group, Bear Watch, he plans to place ads in local Chinese newspapers and on television stations advising Chinese Canadians about the environmental concerns other Canadians have about protecting endangered species.

It is not going to be easy. “The Chinese awareness is really not there,” Marr says. “Maybe the only person you saw in Chinatown today who knows or cares about the plight of the tiger was me.”

But education is the answer, he insists. Because even if the Canadian government were to enact WAPPRIITA and impose stiff fines for poaching and trafficking, as long as a demand exists, so will a supply.

Until, that is, the animals from which the parts come disappear. And with as few as 4,500 wild tigers left in the world, that become an increasingly real possibility all the time.

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