China border officials seize 213 bear paws

Customs officials count smuggled bear paws in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, 15 June 2013 The sale of bear parts is illegal in China, but a thriving trade exists nonetheless

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Chinese officials have confiscated 213 bear paws hidden inside the tyres of a vehicle crossing the border from Russia, state media has announced.

Two Russians were detained in Manzhuoli, Inner Mongolia, when the discovery was made on 22 May.

Bear parts are prized in China for their perceived medicinal value, but their sale is illegal.

Initial investigations showed the paws were from the brown bear, a protected species in China, Global Times said.

Officials grew suspicious after noticing that the van's driver looked nervous, with customs worker Yang Xu telling CCTV the man "looked at his watch often".

The vehicle was then X-rayed, the tyres removed and the concealed paws revealed.

Bear paws are worth 10 times more in China than in Russia, state media said, and the haul had an estimated value of 2.8m yuan ($460,000, £293,000).

Zhang Xiaohai, an official with Animals Asia Foundation, told Global Times that such smuggling had increased in the last two years.

"The demand is huge because more people can afford them and the country has the tradition to treat bear paw as a rare ingredient for cuisine or as an expensive present," Mr Zhang said.

"Bear farms in China exacerbate the situation as they also sell paws illegally, which stimulates the growing trade."

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