Sampling local cuisines is an essential part of travelling. But certain animal-derived delicacies hide some rather unsavoury practices...
Here are some facts to inform your menu choices so you don’t go home with a bad taste in your mouth.
Once reserved as a delicacy and a sign of prestige in Asian cultures, shark fin soup consumption is on the rise. The Chinese love it for its alleged properties of boosting sexual potency, enhancing skin quality, increasing one's energy and preventing heart disease.
The profitability of shark fins – a bowl of shark fin soup can cost up to $100 – has lead to the practice of “shark finning”: removing the fins and throwing the shark overboard, leaving it to face a slow and painful death. This cruel practice kills over 26 million sharks each year, and is an enormous waste as the fin only accounts for between 1-5% of the shark.
Wild animals have always been used as a source of food for local people in many countries, particularly in Africa. However, international demand for bushmeat as ‘exotic’ meals in restaurants in Africa as well as in the west is growing.
The term bushmeat comprises all wildlife species, including threatened and endangered animals – including elephant, gorilla, chimpanzee and other primates, crocodile, porcupine, monitor lizard and lots of others. Many of these animals are endangered and protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) list, which means it’s illegal to kill and sell them.
Despite a global ban on commercial whaling, in effect since 1986, whale meat can be found on menus in Iceland, Norway and Japan, who have all refused to adhere to the ban.
Whales are an endangered species. So skip the meal and go watch them instead. Just make sure you choose a responsible operator that doesn’t disturb the whales, or preferably watch them from the shore – it can be just as rewarding.
Traditional medicines derived from plants and animals have been used in many parts of the world for centuries, to cure everything from epilepsy to impotence. With increasing consumer purchasing power, particularly in the Far East, demand for traditional medicine products has increased markedly in recent years.
Powdered rhinoceros horn has traditionally been used as a treatment for fever, rheumatism and gout, among other things. However, recent increases in demand means the illegal poaching of rhinos in Africa and Asia has soared, threatening rhinos to extinction.
The practice of eating dog meat and, to a lesser extent, cat meat is most widespread in Asia, where conservative estimates suggest that over 18 million dogs and more than 4 million cats are killed for human consumption each year. Although these species are not endangered, the production of dog and cat meat subject the animals to immense suffering.
Many dogs and cats are taken from the streets (stolen pets or strays) but in some countries millions of dogs are intensively bred and farmed in terrible conditions. In China and South Korea there are thousands of dog farms where dogs are intensively bred and reared for meat production. On these farms even their most basic needs are not met, such as the provision of adequate food and water and veterinary care.
So wherever you go, whenever you’re offered a sample of something exotic – take a moment to think. If in doubt, move on.
For more tips about guilt-free and wildlife friendly holidays, please visit www.RIGHT-tourism.org. RIGHT-tourism stands for Responsible, Informed, Guilt-Free and Humane Tourism. Article author Jenny Berg works for Care for the Wild International.
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