Monday, January 21, 2008

Maple's Travelogue: Fierce Animal

by Maple Xu

[In translation]

Entering a hotel in the Xingchang County of Zhejiang Province, a majestic lion stood fiercely in my face, it startled me. I looked again and it was a lion specimen in a big glass case.

This was strange. I have traveled everywhere through China, and stayed in countless hotels, but never have I seen anyone placed a stuffed fierce animal in the lobby to greet guests.

Asking around with the staff, I learned that the hotel owner was a member of the animal protection society, and was especially fond of big cats. This was the only big wild animal specimen imported into China, and the owner had spent a fortune to acquire it from South Africa. The staff told me earnestly that this was approved by the "endangered animal import and export office," and officially imported through Shanghai customs.

After checking-in, my husband and I drove to a nearby lake. All the way we talked about the lion and the unorthodox hotel owner.

We had recently read a report that, in Sichuan alone, during 2007 over 20 pandas were killed by poachers. The poachers expected to sell panda skin at high prices. A reporter told a poacher that Panda skin had no practical use and thus was inexpensive. "But foreigners like to collect Panda skins for specimens! Selling to foreigners is what makes us big money," the poacher refuted plausibly and volubly.

It takes a buyer to make a seller. Was this African lion dead of natural causes, or killed by poachers? If it was the latter, what was the hotel owner doing as an animal-protection society member? Could it be because of his hobby that this lion was no longer running freely in the African wild?

Suddenly my husband shouted, "Look!" Where he pointed to, on the farm house's wall were four big words painted in red: WE BUY WILD ANIMALS, followed by a cell phone number.

I was again startled. My first thought was: "Are there wild animals living in the mountains around?" It seemed impossible as we were only tens of kilometers from the city, and it was a densely inhabited area.

However as we drove along, the same slogan repeatedly appeared. Some gave a cell phone number, some a house phone number. Apparently they were written by different people.

How many local people were purchasing wild animals? Were they stimulated by the high-priced African lion, or did the hotel owner want a dish of lion paws or tiger tails? It couldn't be because the animal protection society was collecting specimens of all kinds of animals!

Wild animals can hurt humans, but that is for survival. Humans, on the other hand, would kill animals for recreation. Which is the most fierce and brutal kind?

The animals probably already knew the answer. We drove in the mountains all day, but didn't run into even a rabbit. 

(Photo copyrights 2007 Maple Xu)

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