By Feargus O'Sullivan
Brown bear kebabs, bear meat goulash and bear chops - all these were on the menu at an Italian banquet broken up by police earlier this month. Organised by President Berlusconi's northern separatist coalition partner, the Northern League, the banquet cooked bear meat imported from neighbouring Slovenia to protest against the reintroduction of bears to Italy's Alpine Dolomite region. Some locals blame heavy livestock losses and a new danger on forest paths, due to the region's 35-strong bear population - even though bears generally shun human contact - but many Italians are furious.
The country's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, commented that the banquet was distasteful at a time when Italy's bears are "almost extinct and we are trying with great effort to bring them back to the mountains that have hosted them for centuries". Unfortunately, Europe's brown bears are not the only threatened animals being dished up worldwide. The trade and international traffic in endangered species is not just for pets, which has been an issue of late in the UAE. Around the world animals considered desirable or delicacies are regularly poached so their parts can be eaten or used to make medicine. In the process, they are pushed closer to extinction. Here are some of the most vulnerable.
The unusual skin of this strange but beautiful breed of anteaters - the only group of mammals known to possess scales - has proved an unlikely curse recently. Long eaten in tropical Africa and Asia, pangolins are being killed across south-east Asia in larger numbers than ever for import to China, where many believe the scales have medicinal properties. The size of the illicit trade is staggering. According to Richard Thomas of Traffic, a global wildlife trade monitor, one illegal syndicate in Malaysia alone sold more than 22,000 animals from May 2007 to January 2009. Some Chinese customers - who also eat the meat and blood - prefer pangolins shipped live, but the animals' low stress tolerance means many die from stomach ulcers en route. Such is the pressure on wild populations that many species in the pangolin family are now endangered or threatened. More....