List: The World’s Worst Poaching Markets
What happens when ancient tradition collides with rampant, black-market capitalism? For certain endangered species, the rise of a Chinese middle class could be a death sentence.
JIMIN LAI/AFP/Getty Images
JIMIN LAI/AFP/Getty Images
Smuggled from: Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam, Nepal, and India
What theyre used for: Its said that some Chinese will eat anything that has four legs and is not a chair, and anything that flies and is not an airplane. That saying certainly rings true when you consider the pangolin, a scaly nocturnal mammal closely related to the anteater. Although all international trade in pangolin was banned under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species in 2000, many Chinese still consider its meat a delicacy. Its scales are also widely prescribed as medicine, even for pregnant mothers. Other uses include transforming dried scales, blood, and urine into remedies for everything from arthritis, asthma, fevers, allergies and skin disorders to prostate cancer, hemophilia, and STDs.
Whats at stake: Pangolins are an endangered species and banned from sale. But black-market demand for these exotic animals remains strong. This January, two Chinese men were given suspended death sentences for smuggling pangolins, a sign that China is willing to crack down on the trade. Before they were caught, however, the two men hauled in nearly $3.2 million in just over six months.
Smuggled from: India, Nepal, Burma, and Russia
What theyre used for: By the early 1990s, when China instituted a ban on all tiger trade, tiger bone was used in medicines such as tiger bone pills, plasters, gels, and wine by over 200 Chinese companies. Tiger pelts are especially popular in Tibet as part of the traditional Six Indicators of Bravery: an upper garment, lower garment, scarf, cloak, saddle, and saddle blanket. The cloaks, known as chubas, could until recently have been made of a more common pelt, such as otter, but growing affluence in the region has tiger in high demand.
Whats at stake: Modernizing factory techniques have augmented this trade considerably, which spells disaster for the waning tiger population. An estimated 2,500 are all that is left of this endangered animal worldwide. Business interests in China are pushing to lift the ban, a move that World Wildlife Federation officials believe would be a deadly blow to the wild tiger population. This past December, police in northern India broke up a poaching ring buying tiger pelts at $4,500 each, with an expected selling price of $50,000 in China.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
Smuggled from: Russia, North and South America
What theyre used for: Bear-paw stew is a specialty dish in China, while the fat, skin, spinal cord, brain, paws, bones, and claws are all used in traditional medicines. The bears most valuable asset, however, is its gallbladder, which can fetch upwards of $4,000 on the Chinese market. Bear bile is used in over 100 Chinese medicines to treat illnesses including intestinal, liver, and cardiac diseases. It is also believed effective as an antispasmodic, poison antidote, and coughing cure.
Whats at stake: Chinas bear trade explains why the Asian brown and black bear populations have declined so much in recent years and why scientists believe a great number of bear species around the world face possible extinction. A domestic bear-raising industry has developed, but many experts believe it is doing little to curb the illegal trade. Bile from wild bears is considered more powerful and brings in higher prices. Asian diasporas in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are also contributing to the trade. In 2007, 50 percent of traditional Asian medicine shops surveyed in Boston reported stocking bear bile.
Smuggled from: Southeast Asia
What theyre used for: The civet, a variety of wild cat, is a staple of Chinese wild-animal markets. Civet is a chief ingredient in Dragon, Tiger, and Phoenix soup (a combination dish made with snake, civet, and chicken). The soup is not only a common specialty, it is thought to cure arthritis, improve blood flow, and increase libido. The musk secreted by the civets perineal glands is also harvested for use in herbal treatments, along with other body parts.
Whats at stake: While at least 19 varieties of civets are considered threatened, the greatest consequence of their trade could be the endangerment of human life. Civets have been associated recently with bird flu and are best known as the prime suspect in the initial outbreak of SARS in 2002. As a response, the government imposed a ban on the sale of civets in 2003, only to lift it four months later under pressure from vendors. When more outbreaks occurred in 2004, a larger crackdown led to the slaughter of an estimated 10,000 civets and a reinstitution of the ban. Since then, the Chinese government has largely tolerated the continued trade, and most wild-game sellerswho rely on more than $200 a month, on average, in civet salescontinue to deny any connection between their business and SARS.
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