Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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Sun bears are hunted for their gallbladders, used in traditional medicine, and their paws, used for bear paw soup.

Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Frozen Bear Legs Discovered on Bus

In this week’s crime blotter: sun bear legs on a bus in Vietnam, a drugged-out pet orangutan, and a ranger charged with poaching a rhino he was supposed to be protecting.

Aboard a bus in central Vietnam, police discovered 18 frozen bear legs on Tuesday. The bus driver and bus owner told police that a man had paid them to drive the macabre booty from Laos to Vietnam, Thanh Nien News reports.

Police confiscated the legs, which weighed nearly 84 pounds (38 kilograms), and the bus for further investigation. The final destination was unclear, but the shipment originated in Laos, a major source of illegal wildlife products for the Asian market.

The legs were from sun bears, according to the report, which are native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia and parts of China. They’re endangered in Vietnam. While data on their numbers are scarce, their populations are believed to be in decline in the wild because of deforestation and the illegal trade in their body parts, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Sun bears are hunted for their paws, which are used to make bear paw soup, a delicacy in China and some other parts of Asia. They’re also hunted for their gallbladders, from which bile is taken for use in traditional medicine. (Watch: Inside the Disturbing World of Bear Bile Farming).

As sun bear and Asian black bear (also known as moon bear) numbers have decreased, the poaching of black and brown bears in North America has increased, as has poaching of brown bears in Russia.

Here are other wildlife crime busts, convictions, and investigations around the world announced this past week.

ORANGUTAN ON DRUGS: When a policeman in Kuwait City checked on a driver involved in a car accident, he discovered an orangutan reportedly under the influence of drugs, Tempo reports. Kuwait’s government is working with the Indonesian embassy to try to send the orangutan back to his native Sumatra.

RANGER POACHING: A ranger at South Africa’s Kruger National Park and a veterinary technician with the government were arrested on charges of rhino poaching, according to a press release. Rangers on patrol in the park heard gunshots, and when they arrived on scene, they saw two men—one in a green ranger uniform—running away. The rangers called for assistance and were able to catch the suspects. The rangers also found a white rhino carcass, two horns, and a rifle.

CUE CRIMES: A famous pool cue maker in Los Angeles has been charged with helping smuggle ivory, the Associated Press reports. Cesar "Ernie" Gutierrez, who has crafted cues for Frank Sinatra and other celebrities, makes cues with exotic woods, gold, and gemstones that sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Gutierrez is suspected of selling 41 pieces of cues made with elephant ivory, found in the bags of two passengers waiting to board a flight to Taiwan.

BIRD BODIES: Indian authorities seized the carcasses of eight birds along with jungle cat meat and monitor lizard skin in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu, the Hindu reports. The products were being prepared for sale by members of the Narikuravar, an indigenous hunting community. The Hindu reports that the Narikuravars’ main customers are elites and politicians.

TORTOISE TRAFFICKING: Four Indian men were arrested in possession of more than a thousand tortoises and turtles in Malaysia, the Star reports. The animals, which were to be sold as pets, were found at a rented house, waiting to be shipped by members of a trafficking syndicate with an international reach, according to the Star. Authorities recovered 1,011 Indian star tortoises, 23 Indian roofed turtles, and 36 borderline endangered black pond turtles, valued at nearly $150,000. Another 500 Indian star tortoises were seized in a separate incident at India’s Chennai Airport, where they were bound for Malaysia, the New Indian Express reports.

SEA TURTLE POACHING: More than a hundred dead hawksbill sea turtles were discovered on board an abandoned motorboat off the Philippine island of Palawan, ABS-CBN News reports. Local law enforcement said the poachers were able to escape before they arrived. An investigation established that they were bound for Vietnam. Hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered, hunted for their shells, meat, and eggs.

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to