Chinese police have seized hundreds of bear paws and dead pangolins that smugglers had injected with tranquilizers, the official Yunnan Daily newspaper said on Thursday.
Police in the southwestern province of Yunnan announced on Sunday that 20 members of a ring smuggling endangered animals had been arrested, the Web site of the Yunnan provincial government mouthpiece said.
Investigators seized 278 bear paws and 416 pangolins that had been smuggled by truck or train from Yunnan to three neighboring provinces over a period of 45 days from December to January.
Ring members injected the pangolins with tranquilizers to prevent them from making noise during transport, the daily said, quoting the Spring City Evening News. The provincial public security department and forest police reached by telephone declined to comment.
Bear’s paw is a Chinese delicacy, while pangolin meat is believed to cure asthma.
Other exotic wildlife that make their way onto Chinese dinner tables include camel’s hump and monkey’s brain. Tiger bones dipped in liquor are considered a tonic and tiger penis is believed to be an aphrodisiac.
A recent survey conducted jointly by the China Wildlife Conservation Association and U.S. non-governmental organization Wildaid showed that a growing number of Chinese are changing their centuries-old tradition of eating exotic wildlife for fear of contracting diseases such as SARS.
About 24,000 respondents in 16 cities and counties were interviewed between October and January for the survey.
It found that the proportion of respondents who eat wildlife fell dramatically compared with a 1999 survey, and the number of restaurants offering wild animals dropped by 6.6 percent.
SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, broke out in China’s southern province of Guangdong in 2002 and in 2003 spread around the world, killing 774 people and infecting more than 8,000 people.
A species of bat in China might have been the source of the SARS epidemic, Chinese health expert Zhong Nanshan has said, adding that the bats probably passed the virus to civet cats.