The appetite of Chinese consumers for endangered and threatened species is considered one of the greatest threats facing environmentalists and animal activists. Even Chinese diplomats have been accused of massive violations of laws protecting these species. As Chinese consumers acquire more disposable income, the demand for such products is increasing. The depth of this problem is illustrated in the recent prosecution of a wealthy real estate developer, identified only by his surname Xu, who (according to police) has “a special hobby of grilling tiger bones, boning tiger paws, storing tiger penis, eating tiger meat and drinking tiger blood alcohol.” He was convicted of killing and eating three rare tigers in the Chinese version of the Gourmet Club from The Freshman.
Xu organized three separate trips last year for a total of 15 people, to Leizhou in the southern province of Guangdong, but he is the only one reported to have been prosecuted. The 15 traveled to the province where they bought tigers for a “huge amount of money” that were killed and dismembered as they watched. One of the individuals filmed the entire gruesome slaughter on his phone so that he could enjoy watching it later.
Police found meat from the slaughter in Xu’s home, including a penis, from the tigers. They also found 16 geckos and a cobra. It was a relatively rare prosecution, which is some good news for conservationists. Xu was sentenced to 13 years in prison and a fine of 1.55 million yuan (S$329,500) while the others were jailed for terms between five and six and a half years.
We have previously discussed this problem in China. About 20 years ago, I was on a delegation to Taiwan and one of my areas of discussion was environmental protection. On the flight over to Taipei, our government sanctioned the Taiwan government for the sale of endangered species body parts in medicines and products. When I arrived, that is all the President and ministers wanted to discuss. They were quite angry and insisted that you could not buy such things as tiger bone on the island.
After days of denials, I decided to investigate the matter myself. I left the meeting early and got into a cab. The Justice minister had just denied that such products were openly sold in Taiwan so I asked the cab driver where I could buy tiger bone. He immediately said “Snake alley.” He offered to drive me that night and I accepted. After driving through the city that night, he walked me down a narrow alley with underaged girl prostitutes on either side behind thin curtains. It was horrible with some girls who looked as young as ten. We then emerged in Snake alley — so named because people often came to drink snake blood as an aphrodisiac. I watched as one large snake was killed and drained into a pint cup and given to a young man. The snake’s beating heart was placed on the table in front of him. He paid a wad of money and drank the blood and was served a snake soup. In addition to open sex acts on display, there was a wide array of endangered species body parts for sale from dozens of open tables. I bought a few and took them to the meeting the next day. I explained that it took me literally minutes to find a place to buy these. The minister looked shocked and then had an interesting response. Instead of again denying the availability of such products, he said that the Chinese culture is ancient and that he can personally attest that these ancient remedies work.
The preference for exotic animals in the Chinese market has deep cultural roots. I have been to China and spoken with environmentalists who have bravely fought not just the government but this cultural insensitivity of such issues.
What is troubling is that this Xu felt so little threat of prosecution that he organized multiple trips to capture, kill, and chop up tigers as his fellow travelers filmed the scene. It will require far greater levels of prosecution for China to deter this type of criminal conduct. However, Wu is a worthy start.