In many cultures, tiger parts are consumed as food, worn as decoration or used in medicines.
BEIJING, China -- Our chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta and I are in China. We've just returned from a restaurant we first started hearing about while shooting footage in Southeast Asia for our "Planet in Peril"
series. Many restaurants here have exotic animals on the menu. We wanted to check this one out.
As often happens on trips like this one, what you think you'll find and what you do find can be two totally different things.
With that in mind, Sanjay Gupta and the rest of our team headed towards the Beijing restaurant dubbed "the penis emporium." As you grapple with that, you're due an explanation: the restaurant was said to serve exotic animal parts from animals around the world, and it just so happened that penis is their specialty. I guess everybody's got to be good at something.
When we arrived, it was clear we found what we were seeking. The window display featured all sorts of animal parts -- ground deer antler, deer blood wine, and three variations of deer penis. The interior of the place was drab -- peeling wallpaper, a Buddha statue in one corner and a cash register in the other. There was no open seating, just ten or so private dining rooms spread over two floors.
The restaurant manager happily took us into a private room to explain to Sanjay what they serve and why they serve it. There were two menus to browse. One was a la carte and the other banquet style.
As we looked over both, the manager explained many of his customers were upper class Chinese as well as foreign tourists. The latter come mostly to try something new and exotic. The former, he said, come to continue an old Chinese tradition.
The Chinese, he explained, have a long history with exotic animal consumption. When you eat a part of an animal, you take on its characteristics.
This sounded simple and innocuous enough, but what he didn't detail is the sometimes devastating effect this consumption can have on endangered animals. According to the American Institute of Biological Sciences, food consumption is second only to habitat loss as the primary threat to China's animals.
And of course, the rarer the animal the more highly prized its parts. Ounce for ounce, things like rhino horn and deer musk can be worth as much as class A drugs or even gold, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
There was knock at the door and a waitress entered with a bottle of deer blood and ground antler wine. The manager filled the glasses and suggested we continue looking at the menu over a drink (note: the "wine" doesn't taste much like any I've had before -- less like wine, more like moonshine). The al la carte was pretty tame. It was the banquet menu that listed the truly exotic.
The manager ordered what amounted to what you might think of as a party platter, and as he went back to the kitchen our interpreter noticed two things on the menu -- item three listed tiger paw and item five simply "T". He flagged a waitress to inquire and she said the "T" meant tiger penis.
When the manager reentered the room, Sanjay asked him about the tiger listed on the menu. Where does he get his tiger parts? Who are the customers? Isn't it illegal to sell tiger?
The manager laughed it off and said they only have it on the menu for affect. They don't actually sell tiger, he said, they only list it so when a customer asks for it, they explain they don't have it and bring them parts resembling a tiger's.
Sanjay asked him to take us into the kitchen to see the "fake" tiger, but the manager refused. The manager could very well have been telling the truth, but there was no way to prove his claims or verify our suspicions.
Officials who track the trade of illegal wildlife will tell you -- getting to the bottom of such an underground and elusive trade can prove remarkably difficult.
After asking about the tiger, it was clear our interview was over. We settled our bill, and headed back out into Beijing.
-- By Charlie Moore, "360" Senior ProducerEditor's note: For more information about this and other environmental issues, please visit "Planet in Peril".