Beast meats: wildlife under threat

Last night some friends of friends were in town, it was someone’s birthday, and it was deemed necessary to celebrate by going across the Red River, into Gia Lam (formerly Hanoi’s little Sin City, but looking quite spiffy these days) and to Le Mat, aka: The Snake Village. I’m not a big fan of the “snake night out”, and though I’ve been to Le Mat several times, I haven’t ventured over there for a few years. The meal starts with a little showboating for the tourists, as a cobra or two are eviscerated, with the heart (still beating) and various innards presented to the birthday boy. An 8-course meal ensues, all snake-related. And booze (ruou, vietnamese rice whiskey) mixed with snake blood or bile, bees or crow, is plopped on the table. Not for the squeemish, and not for even the most causal vegetarian or ophidiophobiast (thank you phobialist.com). Anyway, the folks at the snake village have made a tidy living over the years from this kitschy “one-off” tourism, where culinary adventurers come to Vietnam and want to try something not normally available at Tesco’s. But there’s a darker side to things, with a very robust illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam. The restaurants of Le Mat used to have much more than farmed snakes on display, with a variety of monkeys, civet cats and even the occasional bear in open sight. There was nothing like that in the open on this trip, and maybe they have really cleaned up their act. But with the high prices that exotic meats can command on the market, I doubt it, and its likely that behind closed doors there’s a menagerie of wildlife on the menu.

I’d like to direct your attention to a superb multimedia piece by Australian photojournalist Patrick Brown, called Black Market. Patrick has been based in Bangkok for nearly 10 years, and has been working on an ongoing project on the illegal wildlife trade. I met Patrick several years ago as he was in Vietnam shooting bear bile farms for this story. The economics of photojournalism make it very difficult to sustain a long-term project like this, which makes Patrick’s dedication so impressive. Not to mention the work is simply top notch.

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~ by Julian Abram Wainwright on April 4, 2008.

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