A Hong Kong man’s post about an endangered pangolin dish served at a mainland banquet has resurfaced on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, sparking criticism.

“Bureau Chief Li and Secretary Huang invited us to the office to cook pangolin, [it was] my first time eating it – the texture and taste were very good, I have already fallen deeply in love with this game meat,” the post from Weibo user Ah_cal said. It thanked department leaders for their hospitality during an inspection tour and included a photo of unidentified people at a dinner table and a photo of an unidentified dish.

According to Apple Daily, the banquet was held during a Hong Kong entrepreneurs’ trip to Nanning, Guangxi. The meeting was reported by Hong Kong paper Wen Wei Po at the time, the user’s post said.

Photo: Weibo.

Pangolin is under Grade II National Protection in China, which prohibits its meat from being consumed. But its scales are still legally allowed to be used for medicine at a limit of around 25 tonnes annually and an illegal trade still proliferates, according to a paper published in September by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

According to Apple Daily and HK01, the Weibo account belongs to Calvin Lee Ka-wo, the son of the former chairman of a watch company. His post was published on July 15, 2015, but was discovered this week by the Weibo community, who reacted with amusement and outrage. Some “commended” him for taking the initiative to expose corruption. Posts on the original account have been deleted.

According to state-funded news outlet The Paper, the Guangxi Forestry Administration has started an investigation into the matter, but did not disclose suspects’ names.

A pangolin and a photo of an unidentified dish from Weibo. Photo: Maria Diekmann of the Rare and Endangered Species Trust via Flickr/Weibo.

Following media reports alleging the involvement of its officials, the Guangxi Investment Promotion Agency, a government agency, denied any involvement. The organisation hosted an activity for a Hong Kong delegation in Nanning from July 8 to July 10, 2015, and organised buffets, but dishes did not include pangolin, it said. A spokesperson also denied that the people in the photos were part of their organisation.

In response to the controversy, an editorial in The Paper criticised the eating of wild animals.

“[Some people] feel that consuming wild animals gives them face and status, they eat wild game, and enjoy the feeling of special privilege,” it said, concluding that “it is not only inglorious, but a mark of shame.”

Public awareness in China of the endangered status of pangolins has been increasing in recent years, with celebrities such as Jay Chow and Angelababy appearing in ads for environmental NGO WildAid calling for their protection.

Jay Chou in an ad advocating protection of pangolins. Photo: Screenshot.

China passed a new wild animal protection law in July that banned the sale of food from endangered species, but still allowed other products to be made from them.

In October, the CITES wildlife conference banned the global trade of all pangolin species.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.