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Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2001-2004

The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP



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Joint Media Release
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp
Australian Minister for Justice and Customs

Senator Chris Ellison

18 June 2004

Huge haul of banned wildlife, plant products seized in tri-state raids

One of Australia's largest seizures of endangered wildlife and plant products used in complementary medicines was made in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane today in a joint operation by the Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), the Australian Customs Service (Customs) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

"As a result of excellent investigative work by the DEH, Customs, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) and the AFP, officers raided five complementary medicine outlets in three states where they found large quantities of illegal imports derived from endangered species that are prohibited under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)," the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, said.

"Officers found products labelled as containing bear bile, tiger bone, rhinoceros horn and parts from other endangered animals and plants — species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) because unregulated trade is a major threat to their survival," Dr Kemp said.

"This was a well-planned and executed operation resulting in a large quantity of seized products. The market value of these products is currently being assessed, but it will have a dramatic impact on the illegal complementary medicines trade," the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, said.

In Australia, alternative health is now a $1.5 billion a year industry. However, the growing popularity of complementary medicines here and overseas has increased demand for endangered wildlife species traditionally used for medicinal purposes.

"While complementary medicine is not the only thing that drives poachers to kill endangered animals and illegally harvest endangered plants, it is a significant contributing factor. The industry must adapt to the urgent plight of endangered species used in traditional medicine so more species don't become extinct," Dr Kemp said.

"Many complementary medicines use non-threatened species, and there are synthetic versions of some products available, including bear bile. Choosing alternatives assists the continued survival of endangered species in the wild, and helps establish a sustainable complementary medicine industry."

Following a report by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) on the illegal bear bile trade in Australia, a number of outlets had been under surveillance for several months, culminating in today's successful raids. The Ministers said the operation was an example of excellent inter-agency cooperation.

"Since 1999, the Australian Government has seized more than 29,000 illegal wildlife imports and exports, mostly small imports brought in by travellers for personal use. This seizure of commercial quantities, which follows another large seizure in October 2003, sends a clear message that the Australian Government is committed to eliminating the illegal trade in products made from endangered species," Senator Ellison said.

"While investigations are continuing, it is expected that c harges for offences under the EPBC Act will be laid. The maximum penalties for an individual caught breaching Australia's wildlife trade and protection laws are a fine of up to $110 000 and/or up to 10 years in prison."

"The worldwide trade in wildlife is estimated at billions of dollars and, if it is undertaken in an illegal and unregulated manner, poses a serious risk to the survival of many unique animals and plants," Dr Kemp said.

"The Australian Government's environment, Customs and law enforcement officers will continue to police our strict wildlife trade laws. We are determined to protect threatened species here and overseas, and to eliminate the illegal trade in wildlife."

If consumers are unsure about which complementary medicines are illegal, they can contact the Department of the Environment and Heritage on (02) 6274 1900. Advice on which wildlife species are subject to controls is available online at

Related Information

Wildlife trade fact sheet: Complementary medicine

Why are some complementary medicines regulated under Australian environment law?

Every year hundreds of species of flora and fauna become extinct as a direct result of commercial over-exploitation. Over the past few decades, the growing popularity of complementary medicine and improved global transportation has led to an increased market for traditional medicines — many of them made from endangered species.

Illegal and unregulated wild harvesting for the complementary medicine trade threatens the survival of many endangered species, including bears, rhinoceros and tigers.

Along with more than 160 countries, Australia regulates the trade in complementary medicines under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, better known as CITES.

What are some of the key species under threat?

Rhinoceros are harvested for their horns. Some rhinoceros species are critically endangered — for example, from an estimated population of 65 000 in 1970, there are now fewer than 2500 black rhinos left in the wild.

Tiger bones and body parts are an ingredient of certain complementary medicines. During the past 100 years, three of the eight tiger subspecies have become extinct, with the total population dropping from 100 000 in the early 1900s to a current estimate of 5000-7000.

Bears are harvested for their gall bladders and bile. A number of bear species have suffered dramatic population declines. Some Asian species have disappeared from large parts of their former ranges and remaining populations are becoming increasingly fragmented.

American ginseng, musk deer, marine turtles and leopard are additional examples of threatened species used in complementary medicines.

How does CITES work?

CITES regulates international trade in endangered plant and animal species, and their derived products. More than 30 000 plants and animals are protected under the Convention.

Each member country controls the import and export of an agreed list of species that are endangered, or at risk of becoming endangered, due to inadequate controls over trade in them or their products.

The list of species subject to CITES controls is enforced in Australia under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which is one of the toughest wildlife protection laws in the world.

For details of species regulated under CITES, visit

What are the penalties?

The maximum penalty for illegally importing or exporting CITES products is 10 years imprisonment, and/or a fine of up to $110 000 for an individual and $550 000 for a company.

How do I comply with the law?

Whether you're a commercial importer or exporter, or a tourist who has bought complementary medicine for your own use, you must check whether the product is from a species listed on CITES.

Importing and exporting includes sending or receiving items by mail or courier, or carrying them in or out of Australia in your personal luggage.

Contact the Department of the Environment and Heritage on 02 6274 1900 for advice on which species are subject to controls, or visit

An import or export permit may be issued for Appendix II products, if the complementary medicine is made from wildlife bred in an approved breeding or artificial propagation program. For example the orchid Gastrodia elata , the roots of which are used to treat rheumatism, is grown under an approved propagation program . Contact the Department of the Environment and Heritage for permit documentation and details of overseas CITES authorities.

Complementary medicines may not necessarily contain the products that they claim — for example, sometimes the label will claim to be rhino horn when it is made from buffalo horn. Under Australian law, Customs will seize the medicine if it lists a CITES listed endangered species, whether or not a substitute has in fact been used.

How do I avoid complementary medicines made from endangered species?

Only some complementary medicines are made from endangered species.

There are synthetic versions of some products, such as bear bile. In addition, the gall bladders of pigs and carp are recognised as effective substitutes, and there are more than 50 herbal alternatives many from common garden plants such as rhubarb, dandelion, chrysanthemum and sage.

Buffalo horn is an alternative to rhino or antelope horn. Wild American ginseng, used for centuries for chronic coughs and now threatened with extinction, may be replaced with some species of ginseng that are not endangered. Products from the bones of the mole rat, feral pig or buffalo are sustainable alternatives to the critically endangered tiger and rhino.

By choosing alternatives, you can help reduce the demand for endangered species, assisting their continued survival in the wild. This also helps to develop a complementary medicine industry that is sustainable in the long term.

A brochure with complementary medicine alternatives is available from the Department of the Environment and Heritage on 1800 803 772. Alternatively the Therapeutic Goods Administration (details below) can give advice on the quality, safety and efficacy of registered complementary medicines.

What should consumers look for when buying complementary medicines?

Shoppers can play an important part in helping to stop the illegal trade of wildlife by checking the packaging of products to see if it lists endangered wildlife such as tiger, bear, rhinoceros, Pangolin or plants such as Saussurea costus .

If you don't know whether a medicine comes from a sustainable source, ring the Department of the Environment and Heritage.

For further Information:

Department of the Environment and Heritage 02-6274 1900
Therapeutic Goods Administration 02-6232 8634
Australian Customs Service 1300 363 263

Wildlife trade fact sheet: Complementary medicines: Bear bile

Why are bear bile products illegal in Australia?

Why is bear bile sought after?

How is bear bile extracted?

Wild bear populations

Additional information


The images below are also available for download as high resolution JPG files suitable for print purposes. You will need to click on the link below the image to download it.

Please credit the photographer when using these images.

Bear Bile Farming. Photo World Society for Protection of Animals

Bear Bile Farming. Photo World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA)

Bear Bile Farming

Bear Bile Farming. Photo World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA)

Bear Bile capsules. Photo DEH

Bear Bile capsules. Photo DEH

Bear Bile vials. Photo DEH

Bear Bile vials. Photo DEH

Bear Bile eye drops. Photo DEH

Bear Bile eye drops. Photo DEH

Bear Bile gall wine. Photo DEH

Bear Bile gal wine. Photo DEH

Commonwealth of Australia