Monday, Jun 02, 2003,Page 5
The civet cats are gone from their
cages at the market, replaced by ducks and rabbits. The snakes
missing too, as are the bats,
badgers and anteater-like pangolins.
For years, the hundreds of stalls
at the Chatou Wild Animal Food Market in China's southern city
of Guangzhou were a snapping, hissing
zoo of exotic, sometimes endangered wildlife destined for the plates
of the nation's most adventurous diners.
Then came SARS and the discovery
that civets and some other small animals carry the virus that has
killed more than 600 people in China
and Hong Kong.
Authorities in Guangdong province,
which includes Guangzhou, ordered an end to the wildlife trade
this week and told farms raising
species to quarantine their animals. Some traders have been detained,
and violators are threatened with fines of up to 100,000 yuan (US$12,000).
These are the rules. What can we do?" said vendor He Dawei,
who had already removed the Chinese characters for "wildlife" from
the sign on his stall. "They say they'll arrest you if you don't
Diners in southern China have long
prized exotic meats killed on the spot -- a practice criticized
by doctors as unhygienic
animal activists as encouraging more poaching of endangered species.
We all like to eat this stuff -- the more exotic or endangered the
better," said a bus company employee in Guangzhou who would
give only his surname, Lin. "There will always be places to
get this stuff, because people love to eat it so much."
claim wildlife dishes boost virility and strengthen immunity to
disease. Chinese are also keen consumers of endangered species
for traditional cures. Rhino horn, tiger bone and bear gall are
all highly sought after.
Even in urban Hong Kong, conservationists
say 30 percent of the population have eaten wildlife.
The offbeat cuisine includes dishes
such as "dragon
and tiger head" -- actually a snake and house cat casserole.
raccoon dog -- name it and it might be on the menu. Many are listed
as endangered species by China, meaning it should be illegal
to catch them, but enforcement is lax.
And diners in prosperous Guangzhou,
at the heart of the export-oriented manufacturing region of the
Pearl River Delta north of Hong Kong,
can afford to indulge.
Civet, which is related to the mongoose,
can fetch 90 yuan (US$22) per kilogram -- a princely sum in China.
Demand is so strong that
civets are close to being wiped out in the Tailing nature area
in the northern province of Shanxi, a key source
for exotic species.
At those prices, conservationists wonder
how long China can enforce the ban.
If anything good is coming out of SARS, it's that these markets are
being closed down," said Jill Robinson of the Hong Kong-based
group Animals Asia. However, she said, "It's too early to tell
whether it will be sustained."
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