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Courts Take A Strong Stand On Illegal Bear Bile Import

A woman has been fined $7,500 and ordered to pay court costs for illegally importing bear bile into New Zealand from China.

Litao Xu was sentenced in the Auckland District Court on Tuesday 3 March, and is the first person to be convicted for illegally importing bear bile into the country.

In April 2018, Xu brought twelve vials of bear bile crystals into New Zealand from China and failed to declare them. Customs officers located the vials, which forensic testing proved to be Asiatic black bear bile. This species is protected under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Xu was taken to court by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and pleaded guilty to a charge of illegal import under the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989 in September 2019. Yesterday she was convicted of trading in a threatened species without a permit and fined $7,500 and ordered to pay court costs.

Judge Blackie described the illegal trade in bear bile as a serious issue that threatens the survival of bears in the wild. He said New Zealand had recognised the need to combat the illegal trade in threatened species by passing the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989.

"I want to send a clear message to others who might consider importing bear bile into New Zealand, that in future occasions following this case, they may well be facing sentences of imprisonment,” Judge Blackie stated.

He added that, “In this case, there were no human victims but animal victims. They can suffer and feel pain ... these bears are victims”.

Department of Conservation (DOC) Principal Compliance Officer Dylan Swain says, “Although the bear bile imported by Ms Xu was from a captive breeding facility that is legal in China, New Zealand does not allow the import of bear bile from Asiatic black bears.”

He says the conviction sends a strong signal that it is a crime to illegally import bear bile, or any other endangered or threatened wildlife specimens, into New Zealand.

"We’re pleased with the outcome of this case. The illegal trade in bear bile threatens the survival of Asiatic black bears. These magnificent animals are at high risk of extinction because of demand for their bile and other body parts on the black market. This judgement sends a strong message that anyone illegally trading in these types of products faces large fines or prison sentences.

“New Zealand needs international support protecting our own endangered species from being exploited, and we have a responsibility to help protect endangered and threatened wildlife in other countries. This case reinforces to our global partners that New Zealand takes a firm stance in combatting illegal trade in endangered species.”

A person convicted of importing threatened wildlife specimens into New Zealand without a permit faces maximum penalties of up to three years imprisonment, a fine of up to $50,000, or both imprisonment and a fine up to these maximum levels.

People wanting more information about CITES and importation requirements can visit the DOC website. DOC has a webpage dedicated to CITES information on traditional Chinese medicines here.

Further information:

CITES at the border

More than 6,300 people had CITES-listed species or items containing CITES-listed species seized or surrendered at the border in 2018. There has been a huge increase over the past few years as with a growing number of travellers, and this is only predicted to increase. In 2018, traditional Chinese medicine made up 25% of all seizures at the border.

DOC has received funding from the International Visitor Levy to increase its resources at the border and will use some of the funding for increased education and awareness campaigns.

There has been a huge increase over the past few years (in 2014, 1,884 people had items seized) and the increase is projected to continue with increasing numbers of people travelling.

Asiatic Black Bears

Asiatic black bears are an endangered species at high risk of extinction. Although bear bile has historically been used as part of traditional Chinese medicine, a global ban on commercially trading in these bears, including their bile, was imposed in 1979 by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The international trade ban was imposed by 183 countries - including New Zealand.


What is CITES?

· The Convention on the Illegal Trade in Endangered Species – or CITES – is an international agreement that regulates and monitors trade in endangered animal and plant species to ensure trade does not threaten their long-term survival in the wild.

· It does this through a system of permits and certificates. The correct permits are needed to bring any CITES listed species, or products containing these species, across borders.

· Roughly 5000 species of animals and 29,000 species of plants are protected under CITES. Currently 183 countries are signatories to CITES. The illegal trade in endangered species is worth billions of dollars a year.

· By working together, countries can monitor the movement of endangered species and protect them accordingly.

CITES permits

  • In New Zealand, CITES is implemented through the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989 (TIES Act). DOC, MPI and NZ Customs Service work together to implement this Act. DOC is responsible for administering the Act.
  • We take the responsibility of protecting other countries’ taonga plants and animals as seriously as protecting our own.
  • Items that don’t have the correct permits can’t be brought into your destination country – whether that’s New Zealand or somewhere else.
  • Those planning to travel or wanting more information about CITES and permits can find this on the DOC website or at https://www.cites.org/.

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