Bear Poaching in North Carolina

By Elaine Davenport

Vol. 11, No. 4, 1989, p. 21

Hundreds of black bears are being poached in the southern Appalachian Mountains for their heads, hides, teeth, claws, feet, pads and gall bladders. "When we caught him this one guy was carrying 29 gall bladders--some no bigger than a coin, so they were probably from summertime cub bears," said Ben Wade, who polices crimes against wildlife for the state of North Carolina.

Today's poachers are armed with CB radios, four-wheel drive vehicles, and $5,000 hunting dogs wearing radio-tracking collars. Black bear gall bladders, which sell for up to $1,000 an ounce in many large cities, are used for medicine, especially by Asians, for ailments such as heart conditions and high blood pressure, jaundice and digestive disorders.

Bear claws are made into earrings and necklaces and bear heads and hides are displayed as trophies and used for decoration.

Black bears are not endanged [sic] and with the proper licenses and permits can be legally hunted in the Great Smokies for seven weeks a year. However, scientists worry about a rapidly dwindling black bear population since there are about as many illegal as legal kills being made. To combat poaching, state and federal agencies pooled $160,000 for a sting called Operation Smoky. More than 50 arrests resulted but Wade is not optimistic.

Bears have less than 10 percent of their original habitat left in the southern Appalachians, and the habitat that remains is confined to protected areas. "The concern has been that the protected areas are like islands, not connected corridors, and the wildlife have few alternatives but to survive in those enclaves," says Wade.