Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Market rife with illegal, endangered animals
Though illegal to possess, civet cats were available in a Chinese market visited by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent.
The first time I heard of a civet cat was the spring of 2003, when I was in Iraq as an embedded reporter. Every now and then, we were able to dial in some radio news coverage from the desert, and I still remember hearing one report about a new respiratory disease called SARS. The reporter went on to say that it had possibly been traced back to the consumption of civet cats in the Guangdong province of China. In fact, at the time, the cats were considered a delicacy on the menu at several local restaurants in the city of Guangzhou.

Given the association of civet cats with SARS, it is no surprise that possession of the cats is now considered illegal in China. So imagine my surprise when I visited a Chinese marketplace this morning around 5:30 a.m., and immediately walked into a flurry of vendors with these strange-looking cats in cages. As I got a closer look, the vendors became apprehensive and started to cover the cages and scurry away. Frankly, the lights and cameras used by videographers Neil Hallsworth and Phil Littleton probably didn't help. Still, there was no doubt these were the elusive civet cats, and Craig Kirkpatrick from the wilderness conservation group Traffic confirmed it for me. They certainly do look like cats, as the picture above shows, but they have a snout that is considerably longer and more pointed. Most remarkably, according to Kirkpatrick, despite the civet cats' tumultuous history, their consumption continues to grow.

As Craig and I walked around the market, we saw all sorts of exotic wildlife. One back room was completely filled with turtles. There must've been thousands of them. While most of them were from farms in China, Craig deftly pointed out endangered turtles from Burma and Madagascar. When I asked the shop owners if they had permits for endangered animals, they quickly gave me the brush-off. Craig explained that while selling endangered animals is illegal, his experience has taught him that the police place a low priority on doing anything about it. In plain sight in this market, there were even a couple of Tibetan vendors who claimed to be selling the paws and bones of a tiger, a coveted and endangered animal. Tiger bones are believed to cure arthritis and its blood is said to have an almost mystical quality.

The various marketplaces I visited here were huge, with thousands of vendors and unimaginable numbers of animals and animal parts, from shark fins to bear bile, from poisonous live scorpions to fungus-infected caterpillars. So high is the demand for these animals that they are brought in from all over the world, sometimes legally and sometimes poached. We were told in no uncertain terms that for the right amount of money, we could get just about anything we wanted.

The demand is fueled by custom, such as the need to serve shark fin at a proper Chinese wedding or turtle at parties for the affluent. Part of the consumption is driven by traditional Chinese medicine, which is dependent on approximately 11,000 different plants and 1,500 different animals. Some of the consumption is driven by plain old curiosity. One thing is for certain, though, which is that as our human population continues to grow, certain animal species are declining and even disappearing. We are breathlessly consuming many of our planet's natural resources.

So how do we control this consumption in China and the rest of the world?

-- By Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

Editor's note: For more coverage of environmental issues, please check out Planet in Peril: A CNN Worldwide Investigation.
Posted By CNN: 11:48 AM ET
Dr. Sanjay,

If many of the exotics are brought in from other countries, legally or otherwise, how is it there is no one to enforce the laws BEFORE they are allowed in? Do they pass through border checkpoints or do they just cross anywhere at anytime?

Exactly what do they plan to dine on,or offer as exotic foods to diners, when these are extinct?Perhaps they plan to leave this earth before that happens. Considering how they sell organs from prisioners, on demand, one can imagine what field might open up next.

If every country does not work together to save our earth and its inhabitants we will all go down together. I'm not sure I want to make that sacrifice when some countries just don't seem to give a darn about the rest of us.

Posted By Maggie, Grain Valley, MO : 1:10 PM ET

If the police refuse to do anything to these vendors sadly nothing can be done to control the consumption of these illegal animals in China or elsewhere in the world. Seems it will just get worse until alot of these animals become extinct!

Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Cindy : 1:44 PM ET
Your last sentence is chilling. How do we control China's consumption...

Is it up to the US to control other countries, when most voters are calling for us to stop controlling other countries? Should we control genocide in Africa? Should we control tyranny in Venezuela and Iran? Iraq?

So how is it possible to get our govenment to control China's animal trade when voters are clamoring for us to butt out of genocidal situations and countries killing their own people?
Posted By DH, Lake Barrington, IL : 1:45 PM ET
Hi Dr. Gupta,
How do we control this consumption in China and the rest of the World, you ask? We don't, not really. Until it becomes a real crime, with real punishment and socially unacceptable, then and only then do we have a chance of stopping it.
Where there's no market for a product, that product ceases to be valuable. China, like other Countries and their citizens, need to take a long, hard look, into their own mirrors. Hopefully, what they see reflected back is a desire to protect their planet too. I hope for that sooner rather than later.
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 1:59 PM ET
How can the US determine what happens in other countries? What China and any other country does within their boundaries is that countries business, keep your nose out. How would Americans like it if say Canada made a law saying that in your country you can't eat junk food anymore? You have to learn to accept that others have different views on what is socially acceptable and leave it at that.

If the US would follow this ONE common sense rule then the war in Iraq never would have started.
Posted By Em, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 2:06 PM ET
Since most of this happens in China, I suggest that all the animal respecting and loving athletes and advertiser boycott the Beijing Olympics and make an huge financial flop.

Do you know that they are importing Saint Bernards for livestock, not for pets or search and rescue.

China is the must digusting country when it comes to human and animal rights. They should be made to pay by making all trade agreements with them null and void.
Posted By Donna A. Reuter, Bremerton, WA : 2:58 PM ET
You folks are insane, that's now what Mr. Gupta is trying to say.

Everyone's jumping on the "we control," but if they'd just read a couple words more (I know it's hard people, bear with me) then they'd read "in China AND the rest of the world."

Despite what most people may think, the United States is, in fact, part of the rest of the world. Ever through Gupta wasn't speaking as an American but as a human being?

Mr. Gupta here is expressing his concern for the constant overconsumption of the Earth's natural resources, and people still end up turning it into something about Iraq or America's nose being in everything or a blame game.

Really, I don't think there is hope. With 3/4 of the world getting off on a crazy tangent everytime the issue of endangered animals comes up, there's no way anything will get solved.
Posted By Vince : 3:12 PM ET
Dr. Gupta,

It is not up to US or "us" to control anything. China is a sovereign nation and we don't have the power to make them do anything. What the US or "us" can do is call attention to the problem of the killing of endangered animals and the sale of their body parts and enlist the cooperation of like minded countries to try and get something done through an international coalition of sorts. However, there are cultural differences that must be recognized and honored here. Sharks have nothing to fear from me wanting their fins, but I am not Chinese. Do we have the right to say no more shark fin soup at weddings? No.
Posted By Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 3:32 PM ET
We can't even control our borders. How can we control anything in China?
Posted By xtina - chicago IL : 3:42 PM ET

You ask, "So how do we control this consumption in China and the rest of the world?"

I assume you are asking because you don't know. Well, I don't know either. Assuming the U.S. Government cared, I suppose we could impose some kind of trade sanctions, but that is not likely to happen. We don't even insist that what we import from China is safe and wholesome. Try to organize a worldwide boycott against Chinese products to pressure the government to enforce laws protecting endangered wildlife? That's not likely to be successful. Chinese imports are so omnipresent that consumers don't even know where the components of a product may have originated.

Let's face it. China is in the early stages of modernization. It's the equivalent of Europe's Industrial Revolution. It may take some time to catch up to the West regarding environmental concerns, but by then it may be too late for some of the animals. I'm sorry - I wish I could be more encouraging. Thank you for caring.
Posted By Barbara, Culver City, CA : 3:44 PM ET
Dr. Gupta,
How DO We control the constmption of these endangered animals in China and the rest of the world?
Stricter laws, sanctions, enforcement of the laws, and education, education, education!!!
Someone had better do something fast, the planet is in peril! Tick. .tick. . tick. .

P.S. Please try to keep Neil and Phil out of trouble!!!
Posted By Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX : 3:54 PM ET
If the Chinese aren't smart enough to figure out that the animal supply will run out, why not let them learn a lesson. It'll be kind of like natural selection- only this is man-made selection. When the civet cats run out, their business is over.

p.s. Isn't China the worst human-rights violators in the world?
Posted By Steve - Peoria, Ill. : 4:25 PM ET
Dear Dr. Sanjay Gupta,

Interesting looking animals! I would mistake these Civet Cats for Ferrets or Chipmunks.

From experience I have learned that it is hard for modern-medicine health-care workers to brake through people's ethno-cultural related eating habits.

Food and medical remedies are more than something that is being used for survival: It is part of one's own cultural identity. That is the biggest struggle here.

At least we can teach obese people to eat less calories, fats and bad starchy carbohydrates.

But, how do you educate a whole nation or population to quit their ancient old practices to save the planet and/or to spread an epidemic break-out?
Posted By Ratna, New York, NY : 4:51 PM ET
Dr. Gupta:
Does the purchase of the endangered species also have to do with the customers wanting the civet cats, turtles, etc. because they are illegal? In other words, is it about the supply and demand or accessing the "forebidden fruit"? Or maybe is this about centuries of tradition hitting head on with the 21st century?

Unfortunately, China has also been associated with deadly diseases such as SARS and the Bird Flu.

Will it take a horrible plague for this newly industrialized country to move into a world economy and out of "third world" ideas and rituals?
Posted By Max, Missoula, MT : 5:42 PM ET
Dear Sanjay,

Thank you so much for your excellent reporting from China regarding endangered and threatened wildlife.

In my comments to Anderson's post on March 19 when 360 was in Thailand, I mentioned TCM in regards to endangered wildlife, so I am glad you have investigated this issue.

Although I would agree that the West should take a closer look at Chinese medicine in general, in light of all of the problems with food products coming from China I would not feel safe or comfortable trying TCM products made in China.

I don’t know how you change societal traditions other than condemning its practice, but as I mentioned in my comments to Charlie’s post on July 20, Westerners, particularly well-to-do professionals, are a part of the problem. Their ability to be able to purchase these products and their curiosity, contributes to this type of industry.

I think it would be interesting to investigate who in the West is buying these products. You may find the results surprising.

I think the only way to control this rate of consumption is through education. People need to understand that unconstrained economic growth will always result in environmental degradation, which directly or indirectly impacts on wildlife and other natural resources. In order to combat this problem we must control both population growth and per capita consumption.

I continue to be impressed by these PIP reports; they make me even more anxious to see the special in October!

Jo Ann
Posted By Jo Ann Matese, North Royaton, Ohio : 6:03 PM ET

The planet in peril series is great, its good to truly present to people the horrors of the illegal wildlife trade.

Its really upsetting to see and hear how little respect the people of this world have for its fellow inhabitants. As much as i would like for it to happen i don't think we could ever control the wildlife trade, its in cases like this we see every individual has to take the responsibility for their own actions and until demand for the product reduces supply never will.

Its atrocious but i am never suprised by the brutality of the human race and believe me i wish i was but we are so destructive, it makes me feel so helpless to think of the mess we are leaving behind for future generations!

Hm, poisonous scorpions, civet cats with SARS, and fungus infected caterpillars might just be enought to turn me into a vegetarian. The best way for the USA to help is with education. This PIP series is a great start. Those using old world remedies probably don't understand or care about the harm being done. The Chinese government needs to crack down on illegal poaching and trapping of endangered species. Once they're gone, they're gone. I hope you all are being careful. You don't seem to be making many friends this trip!
Posted By Kathy Chicago,Il : 5:55 PM ET
Posted By Glenn, Seattle, WA : 7:52 PM ET
This is a serious problem.
It's abhorrent to nature.
My country is same.They caught a
natural monument.
Themselves don't know that as time
goes by irreparable damage over and
above what they had anticipated have a hard time of it.
Posted By Hyo kyungJung / south Korea : 8:05 AM ET
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