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Wednesday, 8 May, 2002, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Bear paw poachers caught red-handed
Russian border guard with haul of bear paws
Border guards found the paws frozen and wrapped
Border guards in Russia's Far East have caught two Chinese citizens trying to smuggle severed bear paws and a tiger skin back into China.

The guards are on heightened alert, as summer is the season when Chinese cross-border poachers are at their most active.

Severed bear paw
Bear paw is a delicacy in parts of China
The 32 Himalayan bear paws were frozen and ready wrapped for sale back home, where they are considered to be delicacies.

According to Russian NTV television, killing a tiger can carry the death penalty in China and the smugglers were not aware of this.

Many Chinese villagers come to Russia to gather ginseng and mushrooms and catch frogs, but others are taking part in the growing animal-smuggling trade.

Cubs captured

At the end of April, border guards stopped a van carrying 17 live Himalayan bear cubs, and they are expecting a large influx of poachers lured by this lucrative contraband.

In a report at the time, the Russian Federal Security Service said the poachers must have killed 10 mother bears to have captured the cubs.

It said that smuggling was endangering the species to a "catastrophic extent".

Bear cubs are born in late January or early February, and it is likely that the 17 rescued cubs lost their mothers after the official end of the bear hunting season on 15 January 2002.
Russian border guard with tiger skin
Killing a tiger can carry the death penalty in China

It is thought that the cubs would have been taken to special farms to have bile extracted while they were still alive. The bile is used in folk medicine.

Once dead, their remains would be sent to restaurants.

The cubs are now being cared for by the local Ussuriysk nature reserve, which is in urgent need of money to care for them.

Sergey Bereznyuk, the president of Feniks - the Far East foundation for the preservation of biological diversity - said the nature reserve had a programme of returning the orphaned bears to their natural habitat.

Mr Bereznyuk said official statistics registered no more than 10% of poaching cases.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

29 Apr 02 | Europe
Border guards save 17 bear cubs
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