Eating alligator tests conservation ethics

Updated: 2006-12-01 09:57

A restaurant in east China's Anhui Province has triggered a heated debate after putting an extremely endangered alligator species on its menu.

The Huifu Fine-food Restaurant, based in Huangshan City, has been serving Chinese alligator meat since Monday with the approval of the State Forestry Administration (SFA).

An official with the SFA would only say that Chinese alligators can be used for commercial purposes even though they are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The alligator meat comes from a breeding center that has apparently become too successful. While experts estimate there are only 150 Chinese alligators in the wild, the center has raised 10,000 of them. It started breeding the reptiles in 1979 with a stock of just 200. More than 1,500 are hatched at the center each year.

The manager of the restaurant said he signed an agreement with the Xuancheng Chinese Alligator Breeding and Research Center to provide 200 kilograms of alligator meat a year.

A source with the breeding center said they have also made belts and shoes from the hides of the alligators.

Yet many people are questioning the ethics of eating an endangered species.

"The number of Chinese alligators in captivity has surpassed 10,000, but the number is far from enough to allow their slaughter," said Lu Shunqing, an expert of amphibian reptiles with the Huangshan College based in Anhui Province.

Lu said, the government's investment in protecting the alligators was not supposed to end with alligators on the dinner table.

Eating the meat of endangered animal species goes against the concept of protecting them, said Wu Zhaomin, head of the Huangshan City Research Institute of Anhui Culture. Wu said he would not eat the meat.

"It is unimaginable that the forestry authorities allow people to eat Chinese alligators which are under state protection," said

a teacher of the Yucai Secondary School in Huangshan City.

Chinese alligators which have existed for 230 million years are known as a "living fossil." An adult Chinese alligator measures

about two meters in length, and with a tail as long as its body.

The alligators feed on small animals such as mice, frogs and birds. The species had been listed as one of the most endangered

creatures in the world. Its drastically declining numbers are caused by shrinking and damage to its habitat.

The 150 alligators believed to be living in the wild can be found in pockets in east China's Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces. Each year the number of alligators decline by 4 to 6 percent, said sources with the breeding center.

With 1,500 reptiles hatched each year their number has surpassed the mark set for endangered species, said a source, surnamed Zhou, with the breeding center.

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