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article imageChinese police at lunch allegedly eat endangered giant salamander

By Megan Hamilton     Jan 27, 2015 in Crime
Shenzhen - A banquet for Chinese officials turned violent last week when journalists photographed them eating a critically endangered giant salamander, media reports say. The diners included senior police officials who appeared to flout Beijing's austerity campaign.
"In my territory, it is my treat," The Global Times reported a man as saying,according to The Guardian.
Some Chinese believe the giant salamander has anti-aging properties, but there is no evidence to support this. The Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species. The population of these ancient salamanders has "declined catastrophically over the last 30 years," the IUCN reports. The biggest threat to the giant salamander is commercial over-exploitation for human consumption.
China is smack in the middle of the harshest crackdown on corruption that the country has seen in decades, but apparently those who were dining on the salamander weren't aware of this, The National Post reports.
The well-heeled all across China have been fleeing the country and hiding their money and other traces of their formerly ostentatious lifestyles, so when the journalists caught several police officers from Shenzhen dining on the rare salamander last Wednesday, the banquet became a free-for-all and the cops responded by beating up the reporters.
One reporter was kicked and slapped; another one was scratched bloody, and the reporter who was taking photos was choked, and his camera was broken and taken away by force, the Post reports.
The dinner cost more than $1,000 (wine not included), and this stirs up questions regarding the extravagance President Xi Jinping has sought to curb among public officials. An investigation has been launched into the banquet and 14 police officers have been suspended, officials say, according to The Verge.
Pricey events like banquets financed by public funds disappeared from public view almost overnight. Flashy European brand watches worn by public officials were replaced by locally made brands and officials went from first class airliners to riding bikes to work and meetings, the Post reports.
Which is also why the salamander banquet was particularly bad news, apart from the fact that the creatures are nearly extinct.
Attended by 28 officials from Shenzhen police, including the bureau chief of its Dongshen branch, the banquet included a parting gift that only made the situation worse. That's because each attendee received a bag of fish, caught from a nearby reservoir where conservation laws have made fishing illegal, The Southern Daily, also from China, reported according to the Post.
China's ruling Communist party says it's cracking down on the consumption of endangered creatures, especially shark fins, The Guardian reports. Last April, China's legislature passed a law that includes prison sentences for people caught eating rare wild animals.
The Chinese giant salamander is the world's largest species of amphibian, and it can grow to a length of 1.8 meters (just under six feet). It spends its life in cool, fast-flowing streams and mountain lakes and feeds primarily on fish and crustaceans, Edge of Existence reports. This creature's breeding season occurs between August and September, and the female lays 500 eggs in a burrow that the male guards. As well as suffering from over-harvesting, these poor creatures also has to deal with destruction and degradation of its habitat.
There are only three living species of giant salamander in the family Cryptobranchidae. Ancestors of the Cryptobranchidae diverged from all other amphibians over 170 million years ago during the Jurassic Period, which makes this family of amphibians one of the longest unbroken lineages present amongst the modern species assemblages of caecilians, salamanders, frogs and toads. The genus Andrias is represented by only two extant species, Edge reports.
Largely nocturnal, these huge salamanders start prowling around during the daytime when it is their breeding season. Even so, they will avoid sunlight, preferring to rest in dark hiding places, where they venture out only to catch a snack and feed. Chinese giant salamanders feed on a variety of creatures, including fish, worms, insect larvae, frogs and toads and their tadpoles, crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic reptiles, and small mammals. Every now and then they are known to eat carrion, their own shed skin and eggs, and the occasional young giant salamander. Crustaceans and fish make up the majority of their diet, however. Equipped with small, but numerous teeth, this salamander has a powerful bite, meaning it can maintain a strong grip on its prey. It has a flexible lower and upper jaw, and it can suck the food down quite easily. Their vision is poor, and they have small eyes that are far back on the sides of their heads, and interestingly, both eyes can't focus on the same object at the same time. So they rely on sense of smell and touch to find their prey.
Having survived for millions of years, their future is now very uncertain, and it's all due to the perfidy of human behavior. As long as people continue to believe an animal has anti-aging properties, or some other magic powers, they will continue to consume them. Hopefully, the Chinese government can truly put a stop to this sad behavior so that Chinese giant salamanders, tigers, bears, and all other creatures can be saved and cherished.
Like they should be.
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