“There is none so blind as he who will not see.” — old saying oft quoted by my mother

Mark Schoebel is a second-generation animal dealer running R-Zoo in the northern end of Marquette County. Schoebel has fur-farm, commercial deer-farm, game-bird and animal-farm licenses. These, along with his federal dealer’s license, empower him as a breeding compound and holding facility for exotic and indigenous animals to be shipped anywhere.

Schoebel earned mention in Alan Green’s acclaimed book, “Animal Underworld” (Public Affairs, 1999). Green wrote that Schoebel “in 1986 was accused by the federal government of illegally transporting bears and other wildlife across state lines.

He went on: “Evidence gathered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed that Schoebel had supplied bears to the owner of an Illinois game farm who was charged with shooting the animals, dismembering and decapitating them, packing the carcasses in dry ice, and shipping them via a New York firm to Korea where the gall bladders are used in traditional medicines. … Federal agents uncovered evidence that two dozen bears had also been sent from R-Zoo to Korea via a California broker. A search warrant executed at Schoebel’s facility turned up receipts showing the sale of yet more bears to an exotic-meat dealer in a Chicago suburb. Schoebel pleaded guilty to four counts of wildlife violations and received a fine and four years probation.”

He retained his USDA license to sell and breed animals and continues his trade.

Chicago has at least two packing houses where bears are brought in live and slaughtered for the meat trade. According to Green, 10 years later, Schoebel’s son, carrying a truck filled with bears, was stopped by Illinois state police. According to Green, it was not far from the exotic-meat dealer referenced in the decade-old plea bargain.

Schoebel also provides baby Siberian white tigers to Chula Vista in the Wisconsin Dells. He owns and runs the Timbavati Wildlife Park in Wisconsin Dells. There the baby lions, tigers, giraffe, zebras and other baby animals will disappear in the winter and be replaced with new baby stock next spring. Where do the retired juveniles go?

Approving this year’s expansion of Timbavati, the Wisconsin Dells City Council dubbed Schoebel an “animal lover.”

Alan Green comes to the conclusion that captive-bred wildlife are “no one’s responsibility, no one’s jurisdiction, and really no one’s concern.” The paperwork consists of an elaborate deadly shell game and profiteer-manipulated loopholes.

Copies of “Animal Underworld” can be purchased via this link for a dollar plus shipping.

When I called Rafael Gutierez, chief warden for the state of Illinois, he promptly called back. He affirmed that Illinois does not have laws to protect live bears from slaughterhouses. Although possession of disembodied bear galls is illegal, Gutierez said, “It is difficult to champion laws for animals we do not have in the state.” He said that if bears are legally transported alive into Illinois from Wisconsin, they are not protected in Illinois. “Only federal laws could protect them.”

The Bear Protection Act, drafted in 2009, never came out of committee for a vote. It would have prohibited the import, export and interstate trade of bear gall bladders, offering minimal protections federally. Calls to federal congressional representatives to reactivate, sponsor and improve this bill would help.

The Asian market for bear gall seems bottomless. Although bile has been synthesized and there are herbal remedies that compare, 10,000-20,000 bears are being factory farmed in small cages throughout bear farms in Asia. They have tubes inserted into their gallbladders to be milked daily for bile. They usually die within five years of torture and abuse. Bear gallbladders are profitable and their illegal trade was documented in Wisconsin a decade ago.

The combined pressures of commercial demand, excessive hunting, habitat destruction and nuisance animal control have endangered all of Asia’s bear species. So preference for wild bears has shifted to Russia, Canada and the United States. Asian immigrants and U.S. Chinatowns add local demand.

The illegal wildlife trade is worth about $10 billion and it is estimated that at least one bear is poached for every legal kill. Approximately 1 to 5 percent of poachers are caught. A police officer who videotaped poaching activity involving a bear cub repeatedly stabbed and then set on by dogs after its mother’s gallbladder had been removed said, “The cruelty was beyond any of our expectations … they relished the killing.”

Wisconsin’s DNR flaunts the success of killing 5,113 bears last year as the highest “harvest” ever, and proudly offers up the murder of another 5,000 bears, mostly cubs, starting next month. Short-staffed, DNR warden supervisor David Holmes told me that poachers in Wisconsin just don’t care about the minor penalties and do not expect to be caught. Since killing bears is primary status and profit, the DNR turns a blind eye and has proven them right.

Goodbye bears.

Aug. 21 column: “Children targeted to maintain hunter/trapper control of the DNR”

Patricia Randolph of Portage is a longtime activist for wildlife.

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