Restaurant goers in South China's Guangdong Province are extremely cautious these days about ordering their favourite snake or monkey dish.
Since the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in the late spring this year, people have been more concerned about their health than about pleasing their palates.
So the promulgation of a law allowing raising and selling some 54 species of wild creatures by the Guangdong Provincial Forestry Administration in late August has had little if any effect on what happens on Guangdong dinner tables these days.
"SARS brought a big change to local people's eating habits," said Li Jianye, who is originally from Xi'an, the capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, but has been living and working in Guangzhou for almost 20 years. He says that for more than 10 years he has never eaten wild animal meat, and that sometimes he used to be teased by his colleagues for his fussiness.
"It's not because of religion or anything like that; it's just that I don't like it," he said.
The Certificate for Wild Animal Trade and Usage in the province was reinstated on August 28 nearly three months after its revocation by the provincial government.
Sources with the Wild Animal and Plant Protection Office and the Guangdong Provincial Forestry Administration said that the province has more than 1,300 wild animal feeding facilities.
More than 1,000 masked palm civets are being raised in 18 feeding facilities in the province at present, and these are the animals that were suspected of having a link with SARS.
However, the masked palm civet was proven safe eventually and has been placed back on the list of 54 creatures again approved for raising as food by the Guangdong government.
However, the removal of the restriction made little difference to restaurant owners who serve dishes made with wild animal meat. Snakes not on the approved list are much more popular in restaurants than the approved ones. The once again "legal" civet has netted almost no orders in most of the restaurants.
But snake meat, in the eyes of Guangdong people, is good for you and keeps the body warm in autumn and winter period. Some seafood restaurants are still selling snakes under the table.
A special force set up by the Guangzhou Municipal Public Security Department in Panyu and Conghua districts has discovered that illegal trade in snakes is going on secretly.
(China Daily November 7, 2003)