Jay Ahn, 49, was fined an additional $1,000 for offering to buy gall bladders in the Yukon.
“This is a case that must receive much attention to deter Mr. Ahn and all others that are attempting to get into the trade of wild animal parts to satisfy the market in the rest of the world,” said deputy territorial court Judge Donald Waurynchuk, from Cranbrook, B.C. Waurynchuck presides regularly in the Yukon.
“We shall not condone a market that will surely cause the death of more animals,” he said.
Yukon government prosecutor Penelope Gawn said Ahn told authorities when he was arrested that he was planning to take the gall bladders back to Alaska to sell to friends and grocery stores.
Articles placed before the court by Gawn and Crown Prosecutor Hugh Connolly - there to prosecutor the federal exporting offence - indicated gall bladders are in great demand in Asia, where they are used for making traditional medicine.
The court was told the Asian bear population has almost been wiped out because of the demand, and buyers are now turning to North America for their supply.
“As far as we know, this is the largest seizure of wildlife gall bladders to date,” said Gawn.
Ahn travelled from Anchorage through the Yukon into British Columbia, where purchase of gall bladders is legal.
On his return trip, he was arrested 190 kilometres southeast of Whitehorse and charged Oct. 12 under the federal Game Export Act with illegal exportation of bear gall bladders. He was also charged under the Yukon Wildlife Act with offering to buy animal parts in the Yukon.
All 58 gall bladders were seized from the spare tire compartment in the truck of the car.
The court was told Yukon wildlife officers received information last October from Lodge owners along the Alaska Highway regarding Ahn inquiring about the purchase of bear gall bladders. It is illegal in the Yukon to offer to buy, sell or trade wild animal parts.
“In all of these places, he was asking for bear gall bladders and offering to pay anywhere from $20 to $220 per gall, depending on the quality and type of bear involved,” Gawn told the court. “He was offering $220 for grizzly bear galls.”
Whitehorse defence lawyer Robert Kilpatrick said his client’s Anchorage painting business was facing bankruptcy last fall. So he decided to try and obtain the gall bladders and resell them for a profit.
Kilpatrick noted purchasing bear gall bladders in British Columbia is legal. He said Ahn wasn’t aware it’s illegal in the Yukon to offer to buy wildlife parts. He said his client was also unaware he required a federal exporting permit to transport the gall bladders.
“One of the things that plague wildlife management in Canada is the bewildering array of different regulations in the different jurisdictions,” said Kilpatrick.
The appropriate sentence, Kilpatrick argued, would be a total fine of $3,000 for both charges.
But Gawn said Ahn knew full well he was committing an illegal act. She pointed out that his home state of Alaska, where he has lived for the past 15 years, has prohibited trade of wildlife parts for many years.
She said his offers to buy parts in the Yukon were done in a “sneaky and secretive” manner. The gall bladders themselves were not just placed in the trunk, but hidden away in the spare tire compartment, she added.
“If high prices are offered for animal parts, then animals will be killed just for the supply and world animal parts,” said the judge.
“Sadly, this court recognizes the sale of gall bladders is entirely legal in B.C. and that he bought them there.”
The judge said there was not evidence to suggest the bears were shot illegally but “somebody saved the gall bladders for a specific reason.”
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