Wealthy Chinese Eating Wildlife into Extinction

By Hu Pan

BEIJING, China, January 31, 2000 (ENS) - Thrilled by the wider choice of food that wealth brings, Chinese people are now consuming the country's beleaguered wildlife at a rapid rate. This trend will be highly evident as they celebrate the New Year with lavish feasts which are certain to include various wildlife specialties.

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Restaurants will be presenting wildlife for New Year's feasts.
As the first Chinese New Year of the 21st century approaches on February 6, many in China have reason to rejoice. Over the last two decades, the country has enjoyed spectacular economic growth, and many people have grown wealthier in a relatively short time.

Yet there are signs that the Chinese may be destroying their fellow creatures while enjoying their new prosperity.

A recent survey conducted in the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province revealed that 95 percent of the city's inhabitants have eaten some form of wildlife. More than 50 percent of those polled said they believe that eating wildlife food is healthy.

Shenzhen's Wildlife Administration discovered that 40 different species of wildlife are currently being offered in restaurants and hotels. Most restaurants, supermarkets, and farmers' markets sell wildlife as food.

cobra

Cobra
Perhaps the most popular wildlife food in Shenzhen now is the snake. The market price for poisonous snakes has risen to over 100 yuan per kilogram. Non-poisonous snakes command over 50 yuan per kilogram.

Wild boars and civet cats are also consumed on a large scale.

Of the different types of wildlife that are eaten, some supposedly enjoy strict government protection - large pythons, pangolins, many species of rare birds.

For millions of people throughout China but most notably in the South, eating wild animals has become a way of life. In Guangdong province's Nankun Mountains, numerous wildlife restaurants thrive despite the fact that the region is designated as a conservation sector. Every day restaurant workers kill many wild animals, and no one acts to stop them.

macaque

Formosan macaque (Photo courtesy Asian Animal Protection Network)
Wild macaques, owls, pangolins, and giant lizards are among the many different animals that are eaten. Captured macaques are killed in gruesome ways. First the restaurant employees stuff a macaque in a bag and place the bag in water until the animal loses consciousness. Next they take the macaque out and pour boiling water on its body, before starting to pull off its body hair. Another man who owns a restaurant says that he actually shows his customers how live giant lizards are killed.

In metropolitan Shanghai, too, a lot of wildlife food is consumed by eager customers. As Shanghai has developed economically, the appetites of its inhabitants have expanded. Historically, Shanghai residents have never eaten much snake, but now they consume more than 1,000 tons of snakes per year, according to a study conducted by the city's Wildlife Association and Huadong Normal University.

Over the past two years, birds as well as toads and frogs have been killed en masse in the Shanghai area. The same study by the Wildlife Association and Huadong Normal University found that 50-plus tons of frogs are eaten each year.

Highly endangered species, such as the Tibetan antelope, called the chiru, have started to appear on Shanghai restaurant menus. The Tibetan antelope is famous as the source of the luxurious shahtoosh ring shawls. It has recently been recognized as a species requiring extensive protection from poachers.

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Chiru on the high Tibetan plateau (Photo courtesy Biodiversity Committee, Chinese Academy of Sciences)
In Nanning, Guangxi province, directly west of Guangdong, the soft-shell sea turtle is bearing the brunt of the assault on wildlife. Depressed by the slaughter of these turtles, Shu Yuyan of Guangxi Medical School says they have been captured for many years because their blue-colored blood is a good poison indicator. In the past many scientists had extracted their blood in such ways so as to not kill them. They are not known to be particularly delicious, but in China they are regarded as healthy to eat. Each year now they are captured by the tens of thousands to be shipped to restaurants all over the country, and their numbers are rapidly declining.

Apart from the soft-shell sea turtle, virtually all the wildlife in the Nanning area is now gone. The human destruction of wildlife here started long ago.

On Nanning's Hunan Road, many restaurants have signs that assure prospective customers that the animals they offer are indeed captured from the wild. The restaurants serve peacock, wild swan, snake, turtle, eagle, alligator, pangolin, civet cat, and monkey. Many restaurants take customers to see their live animal storage cages to pick which animals they would like to have. In all, there are roughly 200 restaurants in Nanning serving wildlife food.

pangolin

Also known as scaly anteaters, pangolins are found on Chinese dinner plates (Photo courtesy National University of Singapore)
Wildlife statistics for Guangxi show that every year in the province tens of thousands of pangolins are eaten although they are supposedly government-protected.

Guangxi eats more primates than any other province in China, in both type and number. These primates are on the whole helpless to avoid capture.

Many rare birds in Guangxi are already extinct.

Because the practice is so popular, the Chinese government has found it difficult to effectively limit wildlife consumption, but efforts are underway as the government has become increasingly conscious of the massive human consumption of wildlife.

In December 1999, Guangdong's provincial government published a list of nine birds that are legal to eat.

On January 16, the national government launched the "South Number Two Action," a coordinated campaign to protect wildlife in the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, and Fujian. This is the second major operation of its kind in the history of the People's Republic, coming after the "Hol Xil Number One Action" in April 1999 that cracked down on Tibetan antelope poachers.

Some Chinese NGOs and citizens are also trying to modify the desire to consume wild animals and birds. In December of 1999, Shanghai's Wildlife Protection Association publicized a proposal, "Say no to eating wildlife!" This was a rare condemnation of a practice that is so widely accepted. Also in Shanghai last year, thousands of students signed a petition demanding an end to the eating of wild animals.