A WILDLIFE watchdog has branded a proposed US ban on the trade of bear gall bladders as 'overkill' and urged the traditional Chinese medicine community to lobby against it. But the call from East Asia director of TRAFFIC, Judy Mills, opened rifts between conservationists over the threat to American bears from the demand for their bile, particularly in the Asian region. 'I think this is an absolutely ridiculous proposal,' said Environmental Investigation Agency campaigns co-ordinator Steve Trent. Chinese doctors prescribe bear bile produced by the gall bladder to treat cancer and liver problems, soothe burns, reduce swelling from fractures, relieve pain and treat asthma. Ms Mills said her group, part of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, had been working closely with traditional Chinese doctors to understand their requirements and encourage them to participate in conservation measures. A symposium held with practitioners in Hong Kong in October had revealed their practices were being affected by bans such as those on rhinoceros horn and tiger bone and they wanted to be involved in decision-making processes. 'Even some of these doctors have become criminals, fined huge sums of money because of these changes,' said Ms Mills. A good test case would be the proposal before United States Congress to ban trade in the parts of American black bears, she said. With 40,000 bears killed in the US for sport every year, they were still not considered endangered, said Ms Mills. 'We think that the ban is overkill.' Hong Kong regulates the trade in bear gall bladders which requires traders to gain approval from the exporting country as well as an import permit and tests are conducted to confirm they are legitimate. She said traditional doctors could possibly broker a deal by promising to stop smuggling in exchange for not imposing the ban. Mr Trent said allowing the US bear trade to continue would lead to American bears being threatened with extinction which now faced Asian bears. 'We are aware that at the moment they are not threatened, but if you look at all other species of bear, those that are used in Oriental medicines are depleted,' he said from London. The agency would write to TRAFFIC International director Jorgen Thomsen for a clear statement on its policy following indications that it was against the proposed US ban, said Mr Trent. The International Fund for Animal Welfare endorsed the ban. Asia representative Jill Robinson said: 'It's a large trade, it's a cruel trade.' The fund was working with traditional doctors to find herbal alternatives for bear bile.