Bearing all down under: The role of Australasian countries in the illegal bear trade

Phillip Cassey* (Corresponding Author), Lalita Gomez, Sarah Heinrich, Pablo Garcia Diaz, Sarah Stone, Chris R. Shepherd

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Context: Illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is a leading concern for conservation and biosecurity agencies globally, and involves multiple source, transit, and destination countries smuggling species on a transnational scale. The contribution of non-range countries for driving demand in IWT is often overlooked. Aims: We analysed the dynamics (source, type and quantity) of bear seizures in Australia and New Zealand to gain a deeper understanding of the IWT, and to raise awareness among enforcement agencies for mitigating the international smuggling of bear parts and derivatives, and reducing the global threat to bears from illegal exploitation. Methods: We collated biosecurity and conservation enforcement agency records of CITES seizures from Australia and New Zealand. All of the seizures were declared for 'personal use'. Key results: We report on 781 seizures of bear parts and derivatives in Australia and New Zealand from 33 countries over the past decade. The majority of seizures were medicinal (gall bladder and bile) products, but also included a range of body parts, hunting trophies and meat. China was the source of the greatest number of seizures, however, 32 additional source and transit countries/territories (from Asia, Europe, Americas, Middle East and Africa) were also involved in the seizures of bear parts and their derivatives. Conclusions: The widespread trade of bears is an example of the far-reaching consequences commercial use can have on threatened species. Australia and New Zealand have no native bear species, and yet are frequently involved in wildlife seizures, and illegal bear trade continues to be an enforcement issue. Implications: IWT has a detrimental impact on the conservation of bears. Conservation research in non-range countries needs to be conducted to determine the demand and threats from IWT, and to increase collaborative strategies to counter transnational smuggling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)472-480
Number of pages8
JournalPacific Conservation Biology
Issue number6
Early online date4 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Declaration of Funding
CRS and LG are grateful to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) for generously supporting Monitor Conservation Research Society’s work on this project. PG-D was partially supported by NERC grant NE/S011641/1 under the Newton LATAM funding programme.

The authors acknowledge the CITES Management and Enforcement Authorities in Australia and New Zealand for assisting in the collection and curation of seizure and enforcement data. The authors acknowledge the Indigenous Traditional Owners of the land on which the University of Adelaide is built -the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains. Particular thanks to Jo Beath (Department of Agriculture, Water & Environment, Australia) and Dylan Swain (Department of Conservation, New Zealand) for facilitating provision of CITES seizure datasets. PC thanks Eric Cassey for checking the calculation of data summaries. PG-D thanks C. Jones and B. Warburton (MWLR New Zealand) for their support and help.


  • Biosecurity seizures
  • traditional medicine
  • trophy hunting
  • wildlife trade
  • Family: Ursidae
  • threatened species


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