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China's Wealth Fuels Appetite for Exotic Animal Products


A recent survey by U.S. and Chinese conservation groups shows fewer Chinese diners are eating owls, civets and other wild animals due to fears of contracting animal-borne diseases. However, as Mil Arcega reports, despite changing attitudes, the market for wild animal products is growing.

Customs officials at Bangkok International Airport in Thailand this week seized 60 wooden crates bound for Laos and China. Inside, they found several dozen small turtles along with 245 pangolins, an endangered, scaly, ant-eating animal. Schwann Tunhikorn, Thailand's deputy director of National Parks and Wildlife, said some of the pangolins appeared unhealthy.

"They have been put into these sacks as you can see, and their movement was restricted and they are not in very good condition,” he said. “We try as fast as possible to take them to the wildlife breeding center at Ratchaburi where we have a big pen so we can release them and feed them.”

Pangolins are a prized delicacy in China and Vietnam where a five-kilogram animal can sell for as much as $13,000. The Chinese believe the meat is highly nutritious and prescribe the scales to breast-feeding mothers and asthma sufferers.

Although a new survey conducted by China's Wildlife Conservation Association says consumption of wild animals has decreased 40 percent in parts of China, deputy director Zhao Shengli says they remain status symbols among the wealthy.

"They consume wildlife to ensure that other people know how rich they are," he said. "Consumers in China are not as pragmatic as those in the U.S. This abnormal idea of consumption is a bad phenomenon in the development of the Chinese economy."

Fewer restaurants are serving wild animals since the outbreak of avian flu and SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Still, the survey shows the wholesale market for wild animal products has grown more than 20 percent.

"We encourage the Chinese people, with all their great wisdom and ingenuity, to take the lead globally, to show people and nations what must be done, and how to do it," said Trent Steve, president of Wild Aid, a group dedicated to fighting illegal animal trafficking.

Wild Aid says the use of bear parts in traditional Chinese medicine is one reason why most bear species are declining around the world. Eighty different varieties of wild animals were found in Chinese markets during the survey, including a number of endangered species.

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