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Originally published Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 3:12 PM

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Japanese hunter charged here with gun possession, smuggling bear organs

A Japanese psychiatrist who travels the world as a big-game hunter was charged in King County Superior Court Wednesday in connection with the smuggling of black-bear gallbladders, popular in traditional Asian medicine.

Seattle Times environment reporter

A Japanese psychiatrist who travels the world as a big-game hunter was charged in King County Superior Court Wednesday in connection with the smuggling of black-bear gallbladders, popular in traditional Asian medicine.

Prosecutors say that 71-year-old Tohru Shigemura pretended to be a citizen of the United States to buy guns, which he used to kill six black bears without a license in and around the Quinault Indian Reservation.

Detectives with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife had been keeping tabs on Shigemura since 2007, after hearing a tip that he was trafficking in bear parts.

Bear gallbladders are used in parts of Asia to treat liver and stomach problems, and sell for hundreds — sometimes thousands — of dollars. Black-bear hunting is legal in Washington in season and with a license, but the buying and selling of animal parts are against the law.

During a search of his Seattle home in June, detectives with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife found 11 firearms and several dried gallbladders. On a previous trip, Shigemura had been caught by federal agents carrying an additional 18 gallbladders.

Shigemura is charged with illegal possession of guns and with illegal hunting. He is not in custody and is believed to be out of the country.

His is the latest in a string of cases involving the trade in bear gallbladders.

A Ferry County hunter was sentenced to a year in jail just before Christmas after a jury convicted him on six counts of trafficking in bear parts. Days earlier, the Spokane owner of a small local market was convicted and fined for purchasing bear gallbladders from undercover wildlife agents.

Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or cwelch@seattletimes.com

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