Cruel business still goes on

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 January, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 January, 1994, 12:00am

ONCE again a well-meaning Government measure has fallen short of its objectives. The Agriculture and Fisheries Department at long last has brought in restrictions on possession of, or trading in, bear gall bladders and medicines containing tiger products. The restrictions on tiger products may help save these magnificent cats from extinction. By closing the Hong Kong market, the Government may reduce demand sufficiently to discourage some of the trade through China in tiger products from India and Nepal. That much is welcome, although it remains to be seen how strictly the rules can be enforced.

But banning the trade in gall bladders without banning medicine containing bear's bile is like closing a lock while leaving the sluice-gates open. Certainly, the lucrative bladder trade needs to be brought under control. The slaughter of wild bears in China is a matter of international concern. But the impact on the killing may be less spectacular than hoped: the World Wide Fund for Nature suggests most so-called bear bladders in Hong Kong shops are fakes (probably from pigs).

While the hunting may be slowed - China's ban has not been able to stop it - allowing the import of bear's bile in medicine products props up demand for farmed bile. This is painfully tapped from living bears kept in crowded cages.

Although China has begun tightening controls, bile-farming remains a thriving business licensed by the authorities. Chinese officials have now begun to take notice of conservationists' concerns. But Hong Kong's apparent indifference may take the pressure off Beijing to curb the trade further.