Man arrested at airport after bear paws seized

To airport security screeners for a red-eye flight to China, the X-ray images might have looked like the dismembered hands of a human.

As it turned out, Sunday morning's grisly discovery inside a 39-year-old Vancouver man's carry-on luggage was actually three black bear paws and part of a bear's leg, wrapped in tin foil and a plastic bag.

Sgt. Dave Jevons, a provincial conservation officer, said his office was contacted about 2 a.m. Sunday to deal with a passenger flying out of Vancouver International Airport.

The man was pulled aside after screeners noted something unusual in his bag, and a search unveiled the bear paws. The man was arrested and charges have been laid under the B.C. Wildlife Act and the federal Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.

He faces a maximum fine of $250,000 for a first offence and/or six months in prison.

Jevons said the skeletal structure of a bear's paws is similar to a human's.

Bear paws are desired for both their medicinal qualities and as a food delicacy.

A market for them still exists in both North America and Asia, but Jevons believes it's mostly among the older generation that they are coveted for their status as well.

Asked how much money the bear paws might fetch overseas, Jevons said he wasn't sure, but said gall bladders go for between $100 and several hundred dollars.

According to an article in The New York Times last year, bears paws are a ritual dish for the Chinese, and are "the most common commodities in this underground market" with thousands smuggled annually.

The investigation is continuing, as officers will be looking for how the Vancouver man obtained the paws, and what happened to the other parts of the bear.

This is the first time, Jevons said, that he or any of his veteran colleagues with two decades under their belt, have seen somebody try to smuggle bear paws in their carry-on luggage.

He said they've been found in homes, vehicles and shipping containers, to name a few.

Stefanie Wudel, spokesperson for Canada Border Services, said stopping the smuggling of protected and/or endangered species is important to ensure their very survival and existence.

"The illegal importation or exportation of prohibited or endangered plants and animals is an ongoing concern for (the agency)," she said.

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