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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 March, 2004, 17:02 GMT
Russia snares smuggled bear paws
Bear paws seized at border
Bear paw is a delicacy in parts of China

Russian customs officers have arrested a Chinese lorry driver they say was trying to smuggle several hundred severed bear paws into China from Siberia.

Guards at Ussuriysk border point were taken aback by the large amount of animal parts found hidden in sacks in the back of the lorry, Russian Channel One TV said.

As well as some 800 bear paws and bear pelts, officers found thousands of Siberian weasel and sable skins, grey squirrel and pheasant carcasses.

Bears' paws are among the most expensive items in east Asian cuisine and are much sought after in restaurants in China.

"If you add it up, it makes terrible figures: to get this cargo together, poachers in the Far Eastern taiga shot 200 Himalayan bears and thousands of other animals," the TV correspondent said.

There was a brisk trade in the illegal smuggling of animal parts across the Russia-China border, the TV said. "Maritime Territory customs come across this type of contraband regularly."

Last year, customs officials in Russia prevented an attempt to transport live bear cubs from the country's Far East to China.

The latest illegal cargo is to be kept refrigerated at a customs warehouse until environmental protection experts inspect it, and ascertain how many animals were shot.

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.

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