Strange taste: Vendors crowding around a civet cat on sale in Guangzhou. - AFP
CONGHUA (China): Porcupines in cages, endangered tortoises in buckets and snakes in cloth bags – rare wildlife is on open sale at a Chinese market, despite courts being ordered to jail those who eat endangered species.
The diners of southern China have long had a reputation for exotic tastes, with locals sometimes boasting they will “eat anything with four legs except a table”.
The maximum sentence for anyone caught selling or consuming endangered species was raised to 10 years in prison, but lax enforcement is still evident in Guangdong province.
“I can sell the meat for 500 yuan (RM256) per half kilo,” a pangolin vendor at the Xingfu – “happy and rich” – wholesale market in Conghua said. “If you want a living one it will be more than 1,000 yuan (RM512).”
The market was the subject of a Chinese media expose two years ago, when a local official told the state-run Beijing Technology Times that its role as a centre for animal trafficking was an “open secret”.
The seller, who declined to be named, said making a living from his creatures was getting tougher.
“Now it’s governed very strictly,” he said.
But on a recent morning traders were out in force, with hundreds of snakes writhing in white cloth bags and wild boars staring plaintively from wire cages.
Not all the produce is illegal but a huge sign touted giant salamanders, which are classed as critically endangered – one level below “extinct in the wild” – on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species.
Asian yellow pond turtles were up for sale beside porcupines, most likely from Asia where several species are also critically endangered.
Southern China has long been the centre of a culinary tradition called “wild flavour”, which prizes parts of unusual wild animals including tigers, turtles and snakes as a route to health – despite the lack of orthodox scientific evidence proving such benefits exist.
Pangolins – scaly creatures which in the wild lick up ants with tongues longer than their bodies – are protected by the international wildlife trade treaty CITES, to which Beijing is a signatory.
But in parts of China they are prized by new mothers hoping to produce milk, and have become the focus of a vast smuggling industry stretching across South-East Asia – estimated to traffic tens of thousands of the animals each year.
Beijing first enacted laws in 1989 forbidding trade in scores of creatures including the Chinese pangolin, but has long struggled to enforce the ban.
In April, the central government approved a new interpretation of the 1980s law which could see jail sentences of up to 10 years for those caught eating endangered animals, as well as for sellers. — AFP