By Gu Liping
One man discovered vanity may be China's most dangerous game after police discovered a photo of him with an illegally poached bear in the southwestern province of Sichuan.
Wealthy businessman Li Chengzhang was apprehended by police after he took part in illegal hunting at a protected forest, photographing himself with his trophy kill for use on social networking sites.
The incident occurred in October 2014 after Li and four friends came across a black bear in Tangjiahe National Nature Reserve and shot it.
The hunters peeled off skin of the bear the next day, cutting it into several pieces and carrying it to the Mianyang City.
Li said he has hunted for more than ten years and usually eats the wild animals by himself. This time, his acquaintance introduced to him a real estate tycoon who wanted to buy the bear. They traded at the side of an expressway.
Four poachers connected to Li were arrested by police in Qingchuan County in Guangyuan City in early November.
Police later found a picture of a black bear hanging on a tree in one of their mobile phones, leading to the arrest of Li.
The case is special because most of the suspected poachers are wealthy, addicted to the hunt, which they consider entertainment, rather than to make money, said Wang Wei, head of the county's forest police.
Every time they catch an animal, they show it off on social networks, he said.
After investigation, police busted 13 suspects, and seized 13 guns and 23 wild animal products, including the head of a macaque and the horns of the rare Himalayan goat-like goral.
Eight were arrested over allegedly poaching, killing, transporting, purchasing and selling endangered wild animals and another five were bailed including the tycoon who bought the bear. Police are investigating where their guns come from.
Poaching has again ignited the fury of China's wildlife advocates and Internet users.
Many wealthy are obsessed with hunting out for sport, with the activity becoming a status symbol, said a wildlife advocate. The annual charge for a membership at a hunting range in Mianyang has exceeded 100,000 yuan (16,400 US dollars).
He pointed out that China established its first international hunting ground in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang in 1984. After that, a number of such grounds crop up in Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Shaanxi, Sichuan and Inner Mongolia.
However, they cannot meet the demand of hunters who want to catch "wild" animals or appetite for wildlife.
A man sentenced to 13 years in jail for purchasing and eating three tigers had his sentence upheld by a court in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region last December.
Last November, a group of hunters working in government, a local university and a chemical plant in central China's Hunan Province mistakenly shot dead a villager as they hunted in a forest.
"They are so cruel. If poaching continues, our children will only see these endangered animals in pictures in the future," Castellan wrote on her microblog Sina Weibo account.
Another Internet user nicknamed Xiongxiaoxiong wrote on his account the government should severely punish poachers and buyers, and regulate nature reserves better.
Black bears are listed by the Chinese government as a protected species. Anyone hunting them without permits are subject to severe punishment.
The Animals Asia Foundation (AAP) told Xinhua that it's not humane to torture or kill wild animals for amusement.
The survival of the country's wildlife faces serious challenges from increasing number of poachers, illegal trade and a worsening environment, it said.
People's awareness of wildlife protection should be improved since they are key to ecological balance. Poaching will bring harm to environment and finally to humans themselves, it said.