Crackdowns on animal trade don’t deter buyers

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-11-24 19:33:04

Two police officers in Jiangmen, Guangdong Province, count smuggled pangolins seized in October. Photo: CFP

Authorities in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, have recently broken a case in which nearly 2 tons of scales of pangolin - a protected wild animal sometimes known as a scaly anteater - were illegally purchased and sold to the local market.

Local police said that the scales were estimated to be worth 40 million yuan ($6 million) and came from at least 4,000 pangolins, the Guangzhou Daily reported on November 17.

Suspects confessed that the scales were smuggled from Nigeria to Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and came into Guangdong before this year's Spring Festival. The suspects had planned to sell them as an ingredient for traditional Chinese medicine via the Internet or other channels, said the report, adding that it was the largest case of smuggling pangolin scales in the last 10 years.

Although more and more people are calling for the protection of wild animals, some people still regard consuming wild animals as a symbol of high social status, and believe the animals offer rich nutrition. This belief may explain why smuggling persists.

Many traffickers have started using the Internet and social media to avoid being caught.

Guangdong police have recently cracked several cases involving hunting and selling wild animals. For example, a man from the city of Foshan was discovered selling 3,280 dead birds under the cover of selling curtains, and a shipment carrying 7,260 protected wild animals was intercepted by Guangzhou police, according to the Xinhua News Agency on November 18.

Smugglers stay one step ahead

Experts pointed out that although China has launched several special campaigns against smuggling and selling wild animals, huge profits still lure people into the business. The repeated emergence of the crime has triggered public concern over how to root out the illegal trade, while criminals shift tactics to avoid detection.

For example, restaurants which sell wild animal meat now cook it in a rented house off premises, and then serve it. Many customers are frequent visitors, according to the Xinhua report.

Online platforms like forums, QQ groups, and WeChat are used to set up sales, and code words have been invented to avoid detection. For example, pangolin are called "mice" while boa are named "long worms." Police revealed that almost every wild animal was given a code word and traffickers were very cautious about online trade, Xinhua said.

Smugglers are being more cautious about their methods. A vehicle smuggling wild animals is usually guarded with another two cars front and back. Several vehicles confiscated by police were found to use fake licenses, and contain knives.

Parasite danger

In China, there is a folk tradition that eating wild animals can nourish our body, and the scarcer the animal is, the more nutrition it provides. 

However, Zhao Yongyi, a nutritionist from the First Affiliated Hospital School of Clinical Medicine of Guangdong Pharmaceutical University, said that "the tradition is groundless."

Zhao told a newspaper affiliated to the Guangzhou Daily on Monday that wild animals have the same nutritional value as domestic animals. Although wild animals may taste better, they may carry dangerous parasites.

The Xinhua report also revealed that some offenders inject whitewash into pangolins' stomachs and use hydrogen peroxide to whiten their bodies. Moreover, they soak animal corpses with formalin to keep them appearing fresh.

Call for action

Facing many similar cases, Li Wenjiang, deputy director of Guangdong's Forest Public Security Bureau, told Xinhua that the fundamental problem lies in people's consumption habits. Only by getting rid of demand and cracking down on criminal gangs can authorities put a stop to the bloody cycle. 

A customs official from Jiangmen in Guangdong said that most confiscated frozen pangolins were infants.

Experts believed that authorities should boost publicity calling for the protection of wild animals and impose harsher punishment. "Encouraging civilians to report the crimes could be an important way to tackle the problem," Lu Kaihe, an official from Guangdong's Forestry Department, told Xinhua. "A telephone call could save a lot of animals' lives."

Global Times
Newspaper headline: Insatiable demand

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