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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 13:30 GMT
China's snakes 'at risk'
Albino python, AFP
Snake meat is popular in Thailand too
China's appetite for snakes risks making several species extinct, according to a survey of the country's snake stocks.

Vipers and cobras are particularly at risk, because their venom is highly sought after for Chinese medicine.

According to Chinese tradition, snakeskin and other parts are said to restore health and boost sexual prowess.

Businessmen have exaggerated the properties of snakes as a foodstuff

Wang Fuxing, China Wildlife Conservation Association
More than 10,000 tonnes of snakes are served each year at Chinese restaurants and dinner tables - often stir-fried or served in soups.

And in southern China, wine flavoured with snake blood or gall bladder is especially popular.

But hunting had become excessive, said the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which carried out the count. It said snake numbers had declined drastically in provinces where they used to be abundant.

"China's snake resources have been in wretched plight with the country's rapidly developing economy and the growing market demand for snakes in recent years," said Wang Fuxing, the association's general secretary.

Law broken

He said the reptiles' healing properties were not as great as diners perhaps thought.

Cobra, BBC
King cobras are said to be particularly at risk
"Businessmen have exaggerated the properties of snakes as a foodstuff, which has misled many consumers into eating snakes for their alleged nourishment," said Mr Wang.

The China Daily said that 43 of China's 209 snake species were on a government list of endangered wildlife.

The king cobra, Fea's pit viper and other species could completely disappear from China if they were not protected, the paper said.

Catching snakes in the wild was illegal, but the law was not strictly enforced, said Zhang Chunguang, a spokesman for the Chinese Academy of Sciences' animal research institute.

"The country is too big," he said. "In remote places, even the people in charge of protecting the environment are not aware of why it is important to protect snakes and how to protect them."

See also:

28 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
China snake craze threatens crops
10 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Vanishing reptiles prompt concern
27 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Snakes seized at Bangkok airport
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