Bear-parts, ginseng ring is broken up

January 13, 2004|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - The National Park Service and the state of Virginia have broken a seven-state ring of poachers and smugglers who have been slaughtering black bears and illegally harvesting ginseng root to sell to Asian markets for use as aphrodisiacs and medicine.

The three-year undercover investigation, code-named Viper, centered on rural Elkton, Va., and nearby Shenandoah National Park. To lure the poachers, agents opened a sporting goods store in Elkton, where they met with hunters and poachers trafficking in bear parts and the rare plant, which is an endangered species.

Shenandoah National Park spokeswoman Claire Comer said yesterday that 104 suspects have been identified, and more arrests are expected. Federal and state agents discovered that the poaching and smuggling ring extended from Virginia to Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and California.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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