Weekly Wire
Salt Lake City Weekly Bear Bile Bust

By David Madison

APRIL 13, 1998:  Here's a little trick used by smugglers dealing in black bear gall bladders: Hide the contraband in a box of dates.

Small and shriveled, the bear's bile producing organ looks just like a dried date. They sell for $20 a gram—that's more than gold—and are considered an aphrodisiac in the Far East, where Chinese and Korean buyers mash the gall bladders into a high-priced powder.

According to recently filed records from the Utah Department of Natural Resources, 29-year-old Jason Kim of Bountiful paid undercover agent William Woody roughly $150-$200 per bladder during a sting operation. Kim allegedly purchased 15 in all and told the agent that he planned to ship the black bear organs to Korea.

Phone records from Kim's Bountiful home reportedly show a jump in the number calls to Korea. The increase allegedly occurred while Kim was brokering gall bladder deals with Woody and another agent.

Woody testified in an affidavit that he was tipped off to Kim's alleged smuggling scheme by a classified ad in The Salt Lake Tribune. According to Woody's affidavit, the ad read "Bear hunters wanted intact bear gall" and listed Kim's home phone number.

Woody called the number and arranged two separate meetings where money and gall bladders changed hands. Later, when agents served a search warrant at Kim's home, Woody seized two day-timers with phone numbers and a file folder with other alleged evidence of a smuggling operation.

City Weekly tried to contact Kim, but a message left at his home was not returned. He's currently charged with two counts of wanton destruction of protected wildlife. Conviction of this third-degree felony could send Kim to prison for up to five years.

Since the late 1980s, wildlife officers have seen a rise in illegal gall bladder traffic. Bears began turning up dead with their paws chopped off and their gall bladders removed. Demand for bears parts has pushed the animals to near extinction in Asia, and threatens populations in the U.S.

The Asian appetite for bear gall has also pushed the price for quality bladders up to as much as $160 a gram—roughly eight times the average asking price in the U.S.

In China, there are even black bear farms where the animals are milked for their bile, which is then used in potions and medicines. Wildlife advocates have rallied against bile milking and bear farming, just as others have lobbied against hunting bears with bait in Utah.

This year, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reports healthy black bear populations and predicts a plentiful hunt. And while over 200 Utahns play Daniel Boone while bears are in season, stalking the beasts in Utah's high country, state officials have no way of knowing how many legally killed bears are sold illegally for spare parts including paws, claws, teeth and the prized bladders.

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