Wildlife Watch

Making Booze With Rare Animals Sends Man to Prison

In this week’s crime blotter: creature filled cocktails, a luxury timber bust, and a rhino poaching cover-up.

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A man checks out tiger bone wine, snake wine, and lizard-infused tonics for sale in Mong La, Myanmar. 

Sometimes wheat and grapes won’t suffice. Some drinkers in Southeast Asia prefer their alcohol distilled with animal parts, a tradition stemming from the supposed curative powers the creatures provide.

Chinese media report that a liquor manufacturer in Guangdong Province hoped to capitalize on the custom by selling bottles of alcohol stuffed with parts of rare species such as the common water monitor lizard, crow pheasant, and Tokay gecko, which is considered vulnerable.

Snake wine, made by drowning a live snake in alcohol, can also be found in Southeast Asian countries (on occasion, the snake awakens from a drunken sleep to bite the person drinking the wine), as can wine steeped with the bones of tigers. Neither of these have proven medicinal value.

It’s illegal in China to hunt, kill, and trade protected animals. Last January police busted the man and confiscated 24 bottles of the alcohol. He’s been fined 50,000 yuan ($7,690) and sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison.

Some other wildlife crime busts, convictions, and confiscations around the world announced this past week:

LUXURY TIMBER: Cambodian border police nabbed nine men suspected of illegally harvesting Siamese rosewood, according to the Khmer Times. The men allegedly crossed the border into Thailand to snag 33 pieces of the wood, which is prized for its fine grain and rich hues. Authorities seized the timber and released the men after they “promised police not to illegally log again,” the publication reported.

LEOPARD LOOTERS: Police in New Delhi, India, arrested a gang of animal hide traders and recovered a snow leopard skin from their possession, India Today reported. A senior official said it’s been 23 years since Delhi authorities seized the skin of a snow leopard, an endangered species. No more than 6,500 of the elusive big cats remain in the wild, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

RHINO COVER-UP: Police arrested four forest guards suspected of helping to cover up a rhino poaching incident last November in Kaziranga National Park, in the state of Assam, in northeastern India, Phys.org reports. Authorities said the guards had failed to report the killing and had buried the carcass with its horn removed. Three local people were also apprehended.

POTENTIAL POACHERS: Three of four suspects nabbed for possessing illegal weapons and conspiring to poach posted bail in Mpumalanga, a province in eastern South Africa, says the community news outlet Lowvelder. The foursome was stopped in April by police, who allege that the group was en route to Kruger National Park to poach a rhino. 

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas tongwildlife@ngs.org.

Follow Jani Actman on Twitter.

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