The Malaysian authorities have stepped up the protection measures of the vulnerable sun bear after the Chinese government claimed the animal’s bile can be used to treat coronavirus.
The Chinese government made international headlines when it recommended the use of Tan Re Qing, an injection which contains bear bile, for the treatment of critical and severe cases of COVID-19.
The recommendation was added to a list published by China’s National Health Commission of both traditional and Western treatments for COVID-19.
The Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) in Malaysia has now said there is a serious risk that the threat posed by the illegal hunting of sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) will increase.
The SFC is reportedly working to stop illegal hunting in the state, imposing strict roadblocks at international borders to prevent smugglers and hunters from being able to escape into other countries.
The SFC said they were working with other government agencies to fight against the illegal hunters, adding: “This is to enable the illegal activities to be abolished and to allow those arrested for trespassing and smuggling to receive the punishment under the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998.”
The sun bear is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, with habitat loss and commercial hunting the main threats to the species.
Bear bile contains high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid, also known as ursodiol, which is clinically proven to help dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease. Ursodeoxycholic acid is available as a synthetic drug worldwide and has been so for decades.
Tan Re Qing is typically used to treat bronchitis and upper respiratory infections. National Geographic report Clifford Steer, a professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis who has studied the medical benefits of ursodeoxycholic acid says he does not know of any evidence that bear bile is an effective treatment for COVID-19.
However, Steer says ursodeoxycholic acid is distinct from other bile acids in its ability to keep cells alive and might alleviate coronavirus symptoms because of its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to calm the immune response.
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