A naturalized U.S. citizen from Vietnam whose primary means of employment is as a nail technician allegedly was supplementing his income by trafficking in black bear paws and gall bladders in Hamblen County, authorities say.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has evidence of three bear-parts transactions conducted by 49-year-old Kheim Tung "Michael" Quach, according to Nathan Ripley, a Hamblen County TWRA agent.
Ripley said this morning the TWRA has intimate knowledge of the transactions because agents were actually the ones who provided the bear paws and gall bladders to Quach.
Agents harvested the parts from road-kill mishaps and legal bear kills, and contacted Quach after learning through an anonymous tip he was in the market for the products, according to Ripley.
Between early December 2010 and November 2011, Quach allegedly bought a total of 18 bear paws and seven gall bladders for $1,150, according to an arrest warrant.
The Nov. 20 transaction, because it involved more than $500, is a felony offense punishable by up to two years behind bars. The two transactions in 2010 are misdemeanor offenses.
TWRA leadership in Nashville decided to move against Quach following the felony buy, according to Ripley.
In Vietnam, China and other Asian countries, a soup made with bear paws is considered a delicacy. The gall bladders contain bile that is used in a variety of Asian medicines.
"Usually, they're consumed," said Ripley, who declined to comment on precisely where the transactions occurred.
To reduce pressure on wild bear populations, bears are raised in captivity in Asian countries, and the medicinal bile is extracted while the animals are alive.
The TWRA officer identified Quach as the owner of a nail salon on West Andrew Johnson Highway.
That's where Ripley, who was assisted in the investigation by two other TWRA officers, took Quach into custody on Thursday.
Quach was released from the Hamblen County Jail after posting $5,000 bond.
The formal charges Quach faces are misdemeanor and felony possession or trafficking protected wildlife.