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FMT: Malaysian bears in peril as China pushes cure for Covid-19

PETALING JAYA: Two environmental groups have warned of a threat to the survival of the already endangered Malaysian sun bear, now that China is promoting bear bile as treatment for Covid-19.

Spokesmen for Monitor Conservation Research Society and the Malaysian Ecotourism and Conservation Society (Ecomy) told FMT they feared a rise in incidents of poaching.

Loretta Shepherd, Monitor’s communication coordinator, cited a recent study showing poachers were continuing to hunt for sun bears to cater to a demand by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in Sabah and Sarawak.

According to the study, conducted last year, bear bile products were sold in 35% of traditional medicine outlets in Sabah and 19.3% of those in Sarawak.

Shepherd acknowledged that greater environmental awareness and reductions in the sun bear population had caused a steady drop in the use of bear bile over the years, but she said the threat of extinction remained serious.

She warned of the possibility of local traditional medicine practitioners following Beijing’s suit in promoting bear bile as a cure for Covid-19.

“Desperate consumers may easily be swayed,” she said.

“There is a very real chance that our sun bears will be at increased risk. We could see an increase in the use of bear bile medicine and a rise in the poaching of sun bears.”

A recent news report said Beijing had approved the use of bear bile to treat Covid-19, weeks after it banned the sale of wild animals for food, citing the risk of diseases spreading from animals to humans.

Last month, China’s National Health Commission issued guidelines recommending the use of an injection that contains bear bile powder, goat horn and three other medicinal herbs for the treatment of critically ill coronavirus patients.

Ecomy CEO Andrew Sebastian said he found it “repugnant” that Beijing was promoting the use of bear bile.

He accused China of “always fuelling the demand and supply chain” for wildlife.

“The demand for bear bile will increase and poachers will target the animals for current and future use.

“Local consumption is also something we need to be worried about,” he said.

Sebastian warned of a strain on the resources that the government has invested in for the protection of wildlife.

Nevertheless, he called for the investment of more resources into efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, saying such resources were especially needed in monitoring and the enforcement of laws.

He also claimed there is no possibility that a vaccine against Covid-19 could be found from wildlife sources.

Shepherd said promoting bear bile as medicine would perpetuate the notion that wild animals could continue to be exploited despite the availability of viable, legal and safe alternatives that do not endanger wildlife or people.

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