Hunting Accident File > Violations

WA: Man Accused of Poaching Bears

January 13, 2010

Man Accused of Poaching Bears Investigators Believe Suspect Wanted to Sell Bear Gall Bladders

SEATTLE - A Japanese psychiatrist, who keeps a home in Seattle, is in big trouble. Investigators believe he was hunting black bears here in western Washington and then selling their body parts on the black market.

Dr. Tohru Shigemura is accused of stockpiling weapons, poaching animals and trying to smuggle their parts overseas.

It's a bizarre, but lucrative trade that investigators say is getting more popular. Mike Cenci, Deputy Chief Dept. of Fish and Wildlife says "essentially the rarer the critter, the more value it has."

Investigators say Dr. Shigemura was after the gall bladders of black bears. In Asia, they're used for medicinal purposes, to increase circulation. "In Japan they go for thousands and thousands of dollars" Cenci said.

Detectives were tipped off about the psychiatrist's activities back in April of 2007. Undercover officers watched Shigemura and gathered evidence over the next few years.

Shigemura owns an upscale condo along Lake Washington. Neighbors say they had no idea what was going on; there was no smell or obvious signs that something was wrong.

Investigators searched the condo in 2009 and found 11 high-powered weapons; plus hides and gall bladders from Washington black bears. Investigators say Shigemura bought the weapons by going to several sporting goods stores and lying about his citizenship on the ATF application.

"He certainly admitted to our undercover officers that he knew what the rules were and he admitted to falsifying the forms" Cenci said.

Shigemura was caught in 2008 smuggling bear gall bladders out of the US and only got a slap on the wrist. Investigators hope these latest charges will bring a far more serious punishment.

Investigators believe Dr. Shigemura is back in Japan. He's supposed to be in court on January 20th.

If you have any information about poaching activities, you can call the Department of Fish and Wildlife hotline at 877-WDFW-TIP.

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