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17 Sep 07
Malaysia looks for bear bile in medicine
Malaysia has begun using kits, similar to pregnancy tests, to check for bile and other ingredients made from bears in traditional Chinese medicines, officials said Monday.
Wildlife Department enforcement director Misliah Mohamed Basir said officers were using the kits in a program started early this month to check traditional medicine shops nationwide.
They want to make sure the remedies do not contain extracts from the organs of bears, which are protected by law.
The kits, introduced by the World Society for the Protection of Animals earlier this year, help detect whether a product contains bear protein. They work much like common pregnancy test strips.
Wildlife official Loo Kean Seong said the medicine to be tested is crushed and mixed with a chemical liquid, into which a test stick is dipped. After a few minutes, the stick indicates negative or positive.
"It helps a lot. With the kits, we can do our enforcement there and then," he said, adding that officers had already confiscated some medicine samples.
Misliah said further tests were needed to determine the species of bear involved.
Trafficking in bears, which are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, is punishable in Malaysia by up to three years in jail and a fine.
Traditional Chinese medicines are popular among Malaysia's ethnic Chinese minority. Many Chinese believe remedies made from some animals, like bears and tigers, can be consumed as cures or aphrodisiacs.
It is estimated that farms across Asia keep at least 12,000 bears, often in small cages, mainly to farm them for their bile, according to the Web site of the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
Traditional Chinese medicine with bear bile is used for conditions including fever and inflammation. The bile is drained through a tube that is inserted through a live bear's abdomen and into its gall bladder, the Web site says.
Many bears die from the painful process.
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