Five years after SARS and the specter of the masked palm civet have faded from China's collective consciousness, consumption of wildlife – including threatened and endangered species – is back on the rise, according to a report released last week by the international wildlife trade monitoring organization Traffic.
The report, "The State of Wildlife Trade in China", concluded that medicinal plant and animal populations were under threat from widespread habitat loss combined with 10 percent annual growth of the Traditional Chinese Medicine market. Between 15 and 20 percent of medicinal plants and animals are now endangered, according to the report.
Kunming and five other cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Harbin and Chengdu – were the subjects of consumer attitude surveys conducted by Traffic in 2007. The report found that the belief that wild animals in particular were unpolluted and special, serving as an emotional motivator for consuming wildlife, while the nourishing and tonic aspects of wild animals served as a 'functional' motivator.
Forty-four percent of respondents of the survey, conducted from December 2007 to February 2008, said they had consumed wildlife within the previous 12 months. Within this group, 36 percent said they had consumed wildlife as food, while 16 percent had consumed wildlife in medicines or tonics. Respondents with high levels of income and education were found to be more likely to consume wildlife.
Not surprisingly, Guangzhou residents consumed the most wildlife, followed by Kunming residents. They were followed by residents of Harbin and Chengdu, respectively.
Growing demand and diminishing supply of wildlife were cited in the report as alarming trends which demand shifts in current government policy toward endangered and threatened species.
While there is little chance of anyone eating a panda in China, enforcement of other less-protected animals around the country could be more effective.
An excellent local example of this ineffective enforcement is the protected kanglang fish which is widely available at restaurants around Fuxian Lake, 70 kilometers southeast of Kunming, and has become a famous local delicacy partly because it is increasingly rare and expensive.