In May, Chinese officials recovered more than 200 severed bear paws that were allegedly being smuggled in from Russia. (A small portion of them are pictured above.) Officials estimate the haul would have been worth about $460,000 on China's black market. It turns out that May isn't the "normal" bear-paw-smuggling season, as the heat can cause the goods to rot quickly. Yes, the bootlegged items are so popular in Asia that border officials know when during the year to keep an eye out.
The bear-paw-as-delicacy phenomenon dates back to China's Shang dynasty (1570 to 1045 B.C.) and its last ruler, King Zhou, who was known to enjoy a paw or two. Elaine Sciolino at The New York Times stumbled upon a simple recipe from the era that calls for:
1 bear paw, 2 ounces of honey, 1 teaspoon of salt, 20 ounces of chicken broth, 1/3 ounce of ginger and 7 ounces of grain alcohol.
The paw was to be peeled and cleaned, coated in a thick layer of honey, cooked in a pot at low heat for an hour, rinsed, then simmered for three hours in a pot with the chicken broth and seasonings on the embers of a fire. [New York Times]
Today, bear parts are in high demand at black markets throughout Asia. The prized organs and extremities have reportedly been used in medicine to cure anything from sexual impotency to a fever. On the dining table, bear paws are used in soup and have even been known to get turned into ash trays.
Bear claws and medicine are displayed on a table in Kyaiktyo, Myanmar. (Frans Lemmens/Corbis)