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Chinese police probe endangered animal banquet
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 9, 2017

Javan leopard sighting raises hopes for rare big cat
Jakarta (AFP) Feb 9, 2017 - Four Javan leopards have been spotted in an Indonesian national park where they were previously thought to have died out, raising hopes for the future of the rare big cat.

The leopards were filmed in Cikepuh wildlife sanctuary on Java island by hidden cameras installed after reports the creatures' dung and footprints had been spotted in the area, the environment ministry said Thursday.

Several sets of cameras scanned the area for 28 days in July and August, and filmed three leopards with yellow fur and black spots, and one that was entirely black.

Another eight leopards were believed to be roaming the sanctuary, the ministry said, basing their estimate on studies of the animals' footprints and scratches found on trees.

"The return of this species indicates that the sanctuary has been successfully restored," said environment ministry spokesman Djati Witjaksono Hadi.

The Javan leopard was previously believed to have died out in Cikepuh in the early 2000s due to rampant illegal logging that has devastated the area's forests, the big cat's natural habitat.

Environmental group Conservation International estimated in 2015 there were only around 500 Javan leopards left in the wild, most in forests in western Java.

Leopards are the smallest members of the big cat family, and can grow to around six feet (1.8 metres) in length. Different leopard subspecies are found across the world, from Africa to India and Russia.

Chinese authorities are investigating a banquet where government officials may have feasted on endangered pangolins, considered the most trafficked mammal on earth, after posts about the meal drew outrage on social media.

The animal's brown scales are made of nothing more than keratin -- the same substance as fingernails -- but are highly prized in Vietnam and China where they are misleadingly touted as having medicinal properties.

Police are investigating whether the "scaly anteater" was indeed consumed at a banquet in the southern province of Guangxi, the Xinhua state news agency reported late Tuesday.

A post from 2015, which recently resurfaced on the Chinese social media site Weibo, claimed that Guangxi officials invited investors to eat the animal, which is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Several photos showed an abundant feast, along with the user's observation: "It was my first time eating [pangolin]...I've already fallen deeply for the wild taste!"

In China, the pangolin is under state protection. Eating it is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

A World Wildlife Fund survey published in September found a reduced market for pangolin meat in the country. But the scales continue to be illegally sold.

"These days the quality that stands out most in our officials is wickedness," one Weibo user said about the banquet incident.

"This is how they will become extinct," another said. "Shame!"

The Guangxi Investment Promotion Agency was initially suspected of hosting the banquet, but a regional disciplinary commission cleared the organisation of any wrongdoing.

The commission told Xinhua that only one official attended the private event.

The pangolin is the most hunted animal in the world and an estimated one million have been plucked from Asian and African forests over the past decade.

Steve Blake, the acting chief China representative for the nonprofit WildAid, said he is encouraged by the progress the country has made on curbing pangolin trade.

"This isn't the first time there has been a surge in interest about the pangolins on Chinese social media," Blake told AFP, adding that the "impressive" public outcry would be good for building awareness of the issue.



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