Beijing's Wang Fu Jing street market is a destination for tourists who want to try out the traditional local fare. And that includes local foods, for those who dare, that may not be so traditional. In China, some people's taste for the unusual, and sometimes even the illegal, is cause for controversy.
China's Wildlife Conservation Association made an announcement last week, urging restaurants to stop serving items such as monkey brain, so that poaching of wild animals stops. The dishes, while not commonly consumed, are still part of Chinese custom and are regarded as ancient delicacies.
China's Wildlife Conservation Association made the public appeal last week after a report by China's state-run news channel CCTV said that restaurants in Jiangxi province are serving state-protected wild animals like rhesus monkeys, hog badgers, Chinese bamboo rats and wild geese.
The animals are illegally hunted in the mountainous Jiangxi county of Zixi and are inhumanely slaughtered before reaching Chinese tabletops. Some of the restaurants that serve wild animal meat are even frequented by local officials.
Monkey meat is one of the pricier menu items, going for up to 560 yuan ($90) per kilogram -- a little more than two pounds. Monkey brain, another specialty, is even more expensive, running at 1,600 yuan per kilogram ($257).
CCTV's report said that two people were arrested in connection with the illegal sales of food. More than 100 other people and 1,300 restaurants and hotels have been punished for their involvement with the poaching, transportation and trading of protected wild animals.
The likely punishment for the offenders will be a series of fines, along with bad press, but it could be worse. Even though the wild animals served in restaurants are not technically endangered, despite what the original CCTV report said, they are still considered protected. According to Chinese criminal law, getting caught capturing or killing an endangered wildlife species is much more serious: The sentence can be up to 10 years in prison.
Feng Zuojian, a researcher at the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Science, hopes that China's traditional taste for wild animal meat will disappear.
"Refusing to eat wild animals is one of the signs of civilization. In many foreign countries, especially Europe, there are no restaurants that serve wild animals," Feng said.