Youngsters charmed by exotic snake dishes
YOUNG people enjoy tucking into snakes and soft-shelled turtles as much as their elders do, a survey shows.
A report to be released at the end of the month by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), says that the number of people who eat exotic wildlife is spread across all age groups.
While soft-shelled turtles and most snakes are legal for consumption in Hongkong, the survey also reveals that few people would report sales of protected species.
The WWF is aware that tiger, owl, bear, pangolin and giant salamanders, are available in a few Hongkong restaurants by special arrangement and can be ordered from Shenzhen markets.
A phone and street survey of 1,210 people found that 52 per cent of respondents have eaten exotic animal dishes, a drop from the 70 per cent recorded in the last WWF poll in 1989.
But WWF senior conservation officer Amy Lau Shuk-man said the suggestion of a decline was misleading.
''Last time the question was asked in a different way and I think people may have excluded snake from their list this time,'' she said.
''Our main concern is that 65 per cent of people polled were reluctant to report the sale of protected animals. We need a lot of education to tell people why it is necessary to protect them and conserve wildlife.'' The Agriculture and Fisheries Department regularly checks restaurants and markets for the sale of protected species and last year made 49 seizures. Most were followed by prosecutions with a maximum fine for a first offence of $25,000.
But conservation officer Martin Leung Ka-lok said it was hard to find evidence.
''Sometimes members of the public complain to us that restaurants are selling dishes of wild animals because they see the names on the menu, but when we get there and search we don't find anything and the restaurant owner claims he doesn't sell them,'' he said.
The survey also tested people's knowledge of which species are illegal to eat. More than 20 per cent thought that bear, giant salamander and pangolin, were legal.
The most confusion arose over the civet cat which is legal in Hongkong. Three-quarters of those polled thought it was banned.
Only 23 per cent knew that the common rat snake, cobra and king cobra, which are traditional Chinese fare, are protected.
Tom Creighton, executive director of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: ''Provided they are not endangered species or imported illegally, our main concern is that these animals are killed humanely.
''Ninety per cent of snakes sold for food have their gall bladder removed while they are alive so that it can be sold separately, and they are then put back into a cage to await purchase.
''The usual method of killing the snakes is to slit their throat and then slip the skin off while they are still alive.''