I came across an article on China
Dialogue which I thought was a great compliment to our post on environmental
NGOs. In “Taking Wildlife off the Menu”, Jonathan Watts reports on
conservationists’ fight to stop illegal consumption of endangered animals.
China persists as the leading offender in consumption of threatened wildlife
and most Chinese are not aware and/or not concerned with the impact that an
extinct species has on the environment.
The government has conducted raids on restaurants and
markets selling the contraband delicacies, but environmental activists believe more
is needed. “’We need to build consumer awareness so people move away from
unsustainable consumption towards a feeling of stewardship,’ said James
Compton, the Asia-Pacific coordinator of Traffic.” The exorbitant cost of many
of these specialties means that they are a source of status for the wealthy. As
conservationists try to raise awareness, they face a factor much bigger than
wealth—dislodging tradition. Many, if not most, of the endangered animals in
China are also key ingredients in traditional Chinese remedies. As one snake
seller explained in the article, “Even if people know an animal is endangered,
they will eat it if they have a disease that cannot be cured with other types
of medicine.” In 2003, endangered wildlife received some reprieve when civet
cats along with some other animals were thought to spread SARS. The hit to the
Chinese economy at that time also lessened consumption of exotic delicacies. Once
the SARS scare was over, however, so was any boycott on endangered species. As
the economy rebounded, so did the demand, and with the rise of China’s middle
and upper class, more citizens are in the market for these foods.
Conservation groups in Guangdong, a hotbed of exotic animal consumption, are taking a multifaceted approach to solving the problem which includes posting photos of a restaurant butchering a protected animal online, monitoring illegal activity, and protesting outside restaurants blatantly disobey the law. Both international and local groups are participating in the fight and students are not the least of the voices calling out for increased awareness and an end to the illegal trade.
While conservationists might be the minority in China, they
have some famous personalities backing the cause. In 2006, basketball star Yao
Ming publically swore off shark fin soup, a delicacy in southern China and Hong
Kong. According to USA
Today, Olympic Gold medalist Li Ning and pop singer Liu Huan joined Yao in
petitioning for increased protection of wildlife. Hong Kong University banned
the dish much to the dismay
of shark fin sellers after protests
from the public, director Ang Lee, actor Tony Leung and others
called for them to take it off the menu. Obviously, such outcries get the attention
which this cause deserves. (Click here for more on celebrities and charities in
Changing the minds of the wealthy and older members of society will not be an easy one. Although the culture has long dictated the use of these animals for human health, it is time that a new culture emerges in which wildlife are seen in a larger context of environmental health and well-being for the community.
Further Reading: WildAid’s--‘The Other Chinese Takeaway’