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Kiwis vital to endangered bear recovery

News Release 13/3/06

Kiwis vital to endangered bear recovery, says visiting bear expert

The high number of New Zealand travelers to the Subcontinent and South-East Asia can play a key role in ending exploitation of the region’s endangered bears and reversing declining bear numbers.

That’s the view of world leading bear expert Victor Watkins from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). Watkins will be in the country from March 13-17 to encourage support for the UN-recognised charity’s global bear protection campaigns.

The UK-based campaigner said New Zealand’s high animal welfare standards and reputation as avid travellers to bear cruelty ‘hotspots’ in Asia and the Subcontinent made us major players in the global effort to remove bear species from the endangered list.

“Bear species recovery in these regions has got to start with the traveller walking away from tourist activities that exploit bears and taking their money with them,” he said. “As avid travellers to Asia and the Subcontinent, New Zealanders are vital to our campaign to see greatly reduced patronage of activities which endanger bears, like bear dancing in India and inhumane zoos throughout Asia.

“I urge every New Zealand traveller to report any cruelty they see to the local police, tourist office or local animal welfare society, or your tour operator if you’re travelling in a group.”

In 1991, Watkins started a WSPA campaign dedicated to safeguarding bears from cruelty in captivity and in the wild using methods such as rescue and rehabilitation, lobbying for effective legislation and education. WSPA’s campaign has seen the end of the dancing bear trade in Greece and Turkey and an agreement with the Vietnamese Government to phase out bear farming in that country. Watkins has also conducted undercover investigations into the bear products trade in Asia, bear farms in Korea and overcrowded bear parks in Japan. In New Zealand, WSPA has worked with the Government and border control officials to prevent bear bile entering the country and with Chinese communities to educate them on the herbal alternatives available.

While WSPA’s campaign has had great success since its inception, many thousands of bears continue to endure poor captive conditions around the world. Thousands more are cruelly exploited in bear farms, as dancing bears, in bear baiting events and in hunting and trapping for their pelts, meat and gall bladders.

“It is ironic that New Zealand is the only continent in the world with no native bear population, yet New Zealanders are so ideally placed to help bear species recover and thrive,” Watkins said. “This is a global battle that must be won so these wonderful animals are around for generations to come.”

For more information or to help animals in need worldwide visit www.wspa.org.nz.

ENDS

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