Call of the wild

The popularity of several wildlife species as delicacies is adversely affecting their numbers in China

Published: Friday 31 March 2000

the changing lifestyles and food habits of the Chinese people is pushing their wildlife to the brink of extinction, notwithstanding laws to protect them.

According to local beliefs, eating any species of wildlife is considered healthier than other forms of food. "Around 95 per cent of the residents in Shenzhen, a city in the Guangdong province of China, have eaten at least some form of wildlife and the restaurants in the city offer at least 40 different forms of wildlife in their menus," says a survey recently conducted in the city.

Heading the list of favourites are snakes. Poisonous snakes score over the non-poisonous ones and the prices have been skyrocketing over the past few years. A kilogramme of a poisonous variety costs twice as much as the non-poisonous one. Wild boars and civet cats come a close second. Other species that are increasingly falling prey to the gluttony are those that enjoy government protection.The list is long - pythons, pangolins and many rare birds.

The Nankun Mountains area in the Guangdong province is one area where many restaurants serve wildlife despite the region being declared as a protected area. Shanghai, which has seen huge economic prosperity in the last few years, has also recorded an unprecedented rise in the number of 'wildlife' eaters.

Toads and frogs also find themselves on the list. A study conducted by Shanghai's Wildlife Association and Huadong Normal University found that over 50 tonnes of frogs are eaten every year in the city of Shanghai alone. The feast halted only when highly endangered species like the Tibetan antelope, also known as chiru, started appearing on the menu cards.

The chiru, whose fine hair is used for making the famous shahtoosh shawls, requires extensive protection from poachers. Wildlife statistics for Guangxi province show that tens of thousands of pangolins are eaten every year although they are protected. It is Guangxi province which presents the worst threat to pangolins.

A report indicates that on Nanning's Hunan road, restaurants put up signs to assure customers that the 'wildlife' food offered is actually from the wild and not domesticated or artificially bred. Some restaurants provide their customers a look at the wildlife stored in their backyards and assist them in choosing the animal of their preference. Nanning alone has more than 200 restaurants serving wildlife on their menus.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government launched a coordinated campaign to protect the wildlife in highly threatened provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, and Fujian in January this year. The Wildlife Protection Association of Shanghai in December last year also publicised an advertisement, "Say no to eating wildlife".

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