Planet China

Dragon diet

A walking pinecone that looks like a snake with legs, the pangolin’s appearance has some scholars describing it as the prototype of the mythical Chinese dragon, a symbol of power and strength (and historically, of the emperor himself). The animal’s scales are its most effective defence but unfortunately they also make it an endangered species. Modern-day scientists say that pangolin skin is about as nutritionally useful as chewing finger nails. But traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe it can help with asthma and reproductive problems. Trading and eating pangolins is banned. However, the Beijing-based Legal Mirror reported last week that there is an active underground market. Captured animals are force-fed to make them heavier, and aging ones are given tranquilisers and stimulants to prolong their saleable lives. “Even if pangolin flesh has certain medicinal values, the extra ingredients injected into the animals is more likely to poison you than make you healthier,” it warns.

More than 1,700 species are now on the State Forestry Administration’s list of protected wildlife. But many Chinese don’t even know that so many animals are endangered. China Daily reports this week that a farmer from Hangzhou was arrested by police after pulling 114 toads out of a river and killing 109 of them for a banquet. The man didn’t know that the frogs were a protected species and were officially classed as “beneficial to the state”, the newspaper says.

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