Albion Monitor /News

Endangered Animals on Restaurant Menus

by Teena Amrit Gill

A serving of mountain frogs also costs about eight dollars
(IPS) CHIANGMAI, Thailand -- "The only snake steak in the world," boasts the Kaithong restaurant on its billboard, the promotion enhanced by a huge drawing of a giant king cobra.

This is just one of the "exotic delicacies" the restaurant has to offer -- patrons are also invited to try the meat of pythons, crocodiles, wild boar, soft shelled turtles, monitor lizards, hares, eels and partridges.

Pythons, hares, and turtles are served as steak in hot and sour and coconut soups, or fried with garlic, chili or oyster sauce. A python steak costs 299 bahts (about $12), wild boar in red curry, 199 baht (eight dollars). A serving of mountain frogs also costs about eight dollars.

Much more expensive is the rare king cobra which is a protected species under Thai law. Patrons can select a live king cobra and have it cooked to their taste for 4,499 bahts ($180). An already dead cobra -- with green chili -- is cheaper, at 999 bahts ($40).

Thailand has encouraged farmers to breed animals not native to the country for commercial purposes
For many rich foreigners and a growing Thai upper class with a taste for the rare and exotic, Kaithong restaurant in Chiangmai in Thailand's north is a paradise; for environmentalists, it reflects the growing threat to the world's wildlife.

Many of these species are protected by law in Thailand, yet many end up on the menus of restaurants across Asia, where enforcement is hindered by lack of resources and corruption among officials.

But for wildlife protection activists in Thailand, what is even more worrying, is a trend towards legalizing the commercial breeding of exotic and endangered species.

While many of the animals chosen for such breeding are not native to Thailand like camels and ostriches, several Thai farmers also breed native crocodiles and now even tigers.

Thailand already has two well-known tiger farms, one of which, the Sri Racha farm, 150 kms east of Bangkok, claims to have a 100 tigers bred for conservation purposes.

Leonie Vejjajiva of the Thailand Wildlife Foundation, which runs a center for animals outside Bangkok, claims that at the farm, the claws of the tigers are removed even though they are "ostensibly being bred for conservation purposes."

"This means that they can never be reintroduced into the wild," she says. Bengal tigers are not yet endangered and have not been bred in this manner anywhere else, she adds.

Conservationists across the world have for a long time been skeptical about the commercial breeding of wild animals, arguing that it allows for even more blatant poaching as the dividing line between what is wild and what has been bred in captivity is blurred.

Furthermore, environmental activists argue that the breeding of animals, such as tigers and rhinos, for the sole purpose of producing medicines, especially in cases where there is no evidence of any curative value of the substances derived, is an ethically questionable practice.

Another problem with the breeding farms, say activists, is that in the case of Thailand, the government has encouraged farmers to breed animals not native to the country for commercial purposes.

Thailand not only boasts hundreds of crocodile farms on the outskirts of Bangkok, but recently set up a pilot farm in central Thailand for breeding camels. The Thai Agriculture Ministry, which initiated the project, hopes to make camels attractive as a new source of milk, meat and leather.

In May 1996, another government agency, the Board of Investment, began to promote ostrich farming with the intention of producing high-protein, low-cholesterol ostrich meat as a substitute for beef.

Chinese pharmaceutical companies have pushed the highly sophisticated poaching of such animals further west into South Asia
With the open commercial sale of wild and "exotic" animals, say animal rights activists, the explicit commercial breeding of protected, and even endangered, species such as tigers or rhinos is not far away. The problem with such commercial breeding is that it makes it very difficult to distinguish a "legally culled" tiger from one that is poached in the wild illegally.

Many of these animals end up in restaurants across the region -- in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, Burma and Hong Kong -- and are catered primarily to South Korean, Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese investors.

The belief that various parts of these animals, including endangered species such as tigers, rhinos and various kinds of deer, have medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties, has made them ardently sought after.

With the resulting depletion of their stocks in Indochina, local Chinese pharmaceutical companies trading in such products, along with restaurants, and dealers in skins, leather and other products, have pushed the highly sophisticated poaching of such animals further west into South Asia.

"Poachers are now infiltrating the jungles of Assam, and other parts of north-east and central India in the search of rhinos and tigers," says Panya Chaiyaphum, a Thai wildlife specialist and artist. "It is very sad to see what the greed and obsessions of man are doing to the wildlife of the region."

According to the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society, over a period of just two years, China exported over 27 million tiger-based products to 26 countries, with most sales going to South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, and the United States.

Numerous markets across the region act as the hub for the trade in such wildlife. Bangkok's famous weekend market, Chatuchak, though regularly raided by the Thai police, is a main center for such dealings. Tiger bones and penises, bear paws and king cobra gall bladders -- most of which are used as aphrodisiacs -- can be ordered over the counter.

The Phan Viet Chan market in Vietnam's southern capital Ho Chi Minh City, the Ban Thalat market 90 kms from the Laotian capital Vientiane, and the Pramuka bird market in Jakarta are famous (or infamous) for similar kinds of trade.

One of the bears had missing paw, removed as it was inserted it into a hot broth and while the bear was alive
The Pramuka market, operating since 1975, is in fact Southeast Asia's largest wildlife and bird market. Leopards, civets, macaques, gibbons, otters, sun bears, young tigers and occasionally orangutans, are openly sold there in addition to hundreds of species of protected wild birds, such as the hawk-eagle, white-throated kingfishers, pied fantail, sunbirds and flowerpeckers, blue-crowned and Javan barbets, and several eclectus parrots.

The sale of such animals continues despite the passing in 1990 of a highly publicized environmental act in Indonesia which prohibits the capture of protected species. Those caught abusing the law face up to five years' imprisonment and a fine up to 50,000 dollars.

In Thailand, a similar law was enacted in 1992 and has also failed to curtail the trade. Late last year, young bears to be used in the soup of visiting Koreans were confiscated by the police in Bangkok. One of the bears had missing paw, removed as it was inserted it into a hot broth and while the bear was alive.

Although few of the animals in demand flourish in Thailand today, those which do, are better protected here than in other countries in the region because Thailand is a signatory to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Still, large numbers of animals are smuggled across Thailand's porous borders with Burma, Cambodia and Laos.

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Albion Monitor February 18, 1997 (

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