High level golfers would like to serve bear paw soup after golf tournaments, as a sign of status. That is, if you live in Southeast Asia. I helped eradicate this practice in Cambodia 15 years ago after I found live bears in cages behind Phnom Penh restaurants, waiting for their next paw to be chopped off.
I offered support to the Forestry & Wildlife Department to create an elite animal police unit that would crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. Thanks to a visionary Director who liked my idea, we created together a law enforcement mobile unit with authority over the entire country: national borders, national roads, and cities. This was in 2001.
Since then, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) has rescued 164 bears from untold suffering and tragic death. But, in some cases, our intervention came too late — when we received information on locations where to seize the bear, we rushed to the site….and found only the paws. I will always remember the case of a woman trafficker transporting 4 bear paws in her Toyota Camry, freshly chopped off from an unknown bear in the Southern Cardamom rainforest. She was driving along national road number 4 on her way to a Phnom Penh restaurant.
The restaurant owners no longer keep live bears in cages, by fear of being caught by our animal police. But bears are still being trapped alive in Cambodia’s forests and being sold to bear bile farms in Vietnam and China. Just today, we seized a four-month old Asiatic black bear cub in an affluent condo complex in Phnom Penh — the fourth bear cub seized in the last 30 days.
Where did the mother bear go? Don’t ask. She went to a bear bile farm.