North Carolina

Woman admits to selling NC black bear parts prized in China for treating illnesses

Hunting bear in the Carolinas

Bear hunting is a big tradition that attracts sportsmen from around the southeast to the Carolinas.
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Bear hunting is a big tradition that attracts sportsmen from around the southeast to the Carolinas.

A woman this week admitted she illegally bought and sold North Carolina black bear body parts that have been used for centuries in China, South Korea and other countries to treat illnesses.

Kathy Ann Cho acknowledged in a court filing signed by her lawyer that she illegally bought ginseng and bear gallbladders in the North Carolina mountains and sold them in Georgia, according to the court document obtained by The Charlotte Observer.

Cho acknowledged purchasing l3 black bear gallbladders in Franklin, NC, for $5,200, or $400 each, and selling one of them for $1,000, according to the document filed in U.S. District Court in Asheville by the Charlotte-based office of U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray.

Cho was charged under the federal Lacey Act of 1900, which prohibits transporting illegally harvested fish, wildlife and plants across state lines.

Cho’s lawyer, Fredilyn Sison, is with the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Asheville. An office spokesman said Friday that federal public defenders are barred by law from commenting about active cases.

An undercover agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began arranging purchases with Cho in 2014, after the service learned she was selling illegally harvested ginseng in Georgia, court records show. Court documents do not list where Cho lives.

“During multiple subsequent meetings and recorded conversations, Cho acknowledged she was purchasing ginseng and bear gall bladders from others in North Carolina and selling both in Georgia,” federal prosecutors wrote in the filing.

ginsengroot
Seized ginseng shows the orange stain that marked roots grown in federally protected forests. JEFF WILLHELM Charlotte Observer file photo

The court document does not identify Cho’s buyers or what they intended to do with the gallbladders.

Bear bile stored in the animal’s gallbladder “has been a popular ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine for 3,000 years,” according to the website of the Animal Legal & Historical Center at Michigan State University. “It has been used to cure various ailments, such as fever, gall stones, liver problems, heart disease, and eye irritation.”

The bile can sell for about $185 per pound in China, with an average wild bear gallbladder demanding about $10,000 in South Korea, according to the center.

Such poaching of bear gallbladders has occurred for many years in U.S. forests and parks.

In 2010, for instance, rangers in Virginia’s Prince William Park found the body of a yearling bear cub whose gallbladder had been removed, The Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

Cho’s plea hearing is scheduled for May 31 in U.S. District Court in Asheville, court records show.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.
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