For Russians living near the Chinese border, there's a new easy way to make a quick ruble: selling bear paws. The two countries have relaxed border controls to encourage trade and travel, but in doing so have created a bizarre smugglers' market for animal body parts. Frogs, tiger bones, deer genitals, bear gallbladders, and, especially, bear paws, are transported across the border to Chinese merchants for use as medicine or ritual food, the New York Times reports.
The Russian brown bear is plentiful in Siberia, but authorities worry that the smuggling establishes routes to trade in the Amur tiger and Far Eastern Leopard, two highly endangered species. Their efforts to combat the trade confront a powerful force: the ability of unemployed Siberians to make a quick 1500 rubles—about $50— per kilogram from an afternoon of bear hunting.