Wild dining habits of Americans much different than rest of the world

Interpol Wildlife Crime
A pangolin from the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital is taken to a nearby field to forage for food near Johannesburg. (Photo courtesy of the NRDC)

While I’ve been stuck in the house due to the pandemic, I have had an interesting “read.”

The book is titled “Poached” by Rachel Love Nuwer. I encountered Nuwer and learned of the book during her March tele-lecture in Las Vegas. It was a live event and I was able to ask questions of Nuwer about her travels around the world in pursuit of stories about threatened animal species.

She is a science writer who specifically delves into the world of wildlife trafficking and poaching. Mostly the book focuses on practices in China, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The topic is timely because it is likely the coronavirus pandemic came from a market in China where wild animals (specifically bats and pangolins) are traded for their meat, skins, and scales.

From my years in media relations at the Ohio Department of Health, I know that virtually all recent pandemics involved zoonotic viruses – that is viruses that originated in animals, then mutated and transferred to humans. HIV originated in monkeys. Ebola and SARS came from bats; MERS from camels. It’s true these zoonotic diseases have always existed. But today, they easily spread worldwide due to the availability of jet travel.

As “Poached” pointed out, people in the Far East and Africa routinely eat their native wild animals or use them in folk medicines. They do not see their aesthetic or environmental value as we do in the Western Hemisphere. They consider them a natural resource to be used in the way we use natural gas, timber, and coal.

Much of this is driven by poverty in countries where money is scarce, but animals like rhinos, tigers, monkeys, elephants, fruit bats, pangolins, snakes, and turtles are relatively plentiful.

I could not eat after reading some parts of the book.

The description of an upscale restaurant in Vietnam where cobras were weighed, slaughtered, and cooked right in front of diners turned my stomach. Likewise, the thought of drinking tea made from moldy rhino horn made me want to vomit.

The CITES Treaty (Convention On The International Trade In Endangered Species), of which the U.S. is a party, is largely ignored in the third world and only governs the country-to-country trade in selected species – not internal domestic use, Nuwer said.

I could not imagine eating a cobra, bat, pangolin, tiger or bear paw – or using animal blood as a mixer in alcoholic drinks. But these things are routinely consumed in pricey restaurants in the Far East where doing so is considered a mark of status and success, Nuwer illustrated.

Then, I had a second thought.

Maybe the same people who eat these creatures or value them as a cure-all for everything from arthritis to cancer might be horrified at what we Westerners consume.

I have eaten alligator in Florida, rattlesnake in Arizona, elk in Utah, and wild boar in Texas. I routinely eat venison, duck, rabbit, and squirrel when it is available. I give no thought to this and know it is socially acceptable in Middle America.

I wonder if the Chinese, Vietnamese, or Laotians would be revolted at my dining pleasures. Perhaps so.

Cultural differences can be extreme. But there is one big difference between the Western and Eastern worlds. Here, we manage our wildlife resources so as not to deplete them – setting bag limits on the fish and game we harvest.

In the East, poachers and traffickers have no qualms about hunting and trapping animals to extinction. That’s happened with certain species of rhino, pangolin, and bear. Other animals are currently threatened, despite protection by CITES.

Managing wild things – both animal and plant – is important. Nuwer’s “Poached” made that point in a very graphic way.

Categories: Ohio – Jane Beathard

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