The poaching and trading of wild animals has again attracted the attention of China’s Internet users after a video called “Shocking Killings” aired on a popular Chinese television program, Focal Interview (焦点访谈), on China Central Television (CCTV). The video was secretly recorded by a journalist in Zixi County, a small mountainous area in Jiangxi Province. The county advertises itself as a “Jade in China” and a “Human Oasis” based on its ecological environment index and the fact that 87% of its surface is covered by forest. But the reality is far darker for its animal residents, including wild macaques, geese, muntjacs and boars.
The video shows the journalist following three poachers in a protected forest park, where seven macaques had been shot to dead within only four hours, three of them baby macaques. Poachers were able to shoot with shocking accuracy, killing seven macaques with nine bullets. Although the poaching took place in a protected park area, no patrol or police showed up to stop the poaching.
Macaques were not the only wild animals killed. Wild geese, boars, and muntjacs were also on the poachers’ list. Hunting was not limited to daytime; evenings were better for catching certain animals more active at night. At night, poachers wore helmets with strong lights to identify and confuse the animals.
The commercial chain
The value of wild animals as a foodstuff appears to be the main driver behind the poaching. According to the CCTV investigation, at local restaurants that serve game meat under the table, a macaque’s meat can be sold for 280 RMB (about US$46) per half kilo. Each macaque head is worth 800 RMB (about US$133). Wild geese meat is 400 RMB (about US$66) per half kilo. Seven dead macaques can be sold for 3,000 RMB (about US$500). According to poachers, many local restaurants ask for both living and dead wild animals. The price of living wild animals is double or triple that of the dead, which lead poachers to use traps to catch animals (see image below).
These powerful traps are made of steel and can be bought at local grocery and hardware stores. A salesman from a local hardware store told the videojournalist that they have been selling traps for many years and many of their customers have bought fifty to one hundred traps at a time.
Poachers install these traps on the paths of most wild animals. A poacher claims that every mountain in Zixi has at least one hundred traps, while the total number in the county could be more than one hundred thousand.
The poachers trade wild animals through three commercial channels: Local restaurants, farmers’ markets, and local companies. Local restaurants and farmers’ markets serve local consumers while trading companies transport the game to other provinces. Wild animal dishes are not only popular in Zixi, but other regions that value game meat. According to trading companies in the video, dead animals were mainly sent to Hunan Province while living animals were sold to Guangdong Province.
Perhaps even more shocking: Government officials are the main patrons of those local Zixi restaurantsthat supply game meat. Officials are reliable customers because they regularly visit the restaurants and order the most expensive dishes–in this case, game meat. Based on the journalist’s investigation, many local restaurants that supply game meat have a special license from the local government that allows officials to dine there using government money (三公消费).
Anger and criticism
As so often happens, social media lifts the veil on public opinion. As the news spread on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, Internet users declared themselves furious. Within several hours of Sina News sharing the video, more than 5,000 users had posted angry commented condemning the poaching.
A netizen from Fujian Province criticized government officials: “Do you know who eats wild animals? Ordinary Chinese people cannot afford it. It’s the corrupt officials and businessmen who use government expenditures to pay for their meals. China has a legal system and regulatory agencies but they abuse their power for their own ends. Business people and government officials are all in collusion.”
@亭亭玉立999 expressed her anger this way: “It’s too cruel to kill wild animals, but the barbaric poaching and killing do not just happen overnight. It’s so ironic that government officials eat illegally poached or traded wild animals with their own permission. Who allows this?”
@已经康复的脑梗患者 commented, “Consumption results in killings! All factors involved in the commercial chain need to take responsibility.”
The large-scale poaching activities in Zixi County result from high demand from both locals and other regions in China. It is ironic to see the killings happen in a protected forest park, and it seems ridiculous that officials eat illegal poached wild animals and then pay with government money. However, despite outcries on social media, Chinese people’s overall awareness of the need to protect wild animals remains weak. Targeting each link in the commercial chain, improving people’s awareness of protected animals, and strictly enforcing animal protection regulations could be the solution. That will only work, of course, if government officials who violate the laws and abuse their political power are punished as well.