The pagoda butchers

Published: 02/04/2010 05:00



The popularity of the Perfume Pagoda’s annual spring festival has led to a rise in local restaurants serving wild animals.

The popularity of the Perfume Pagoda’s annual spring festival has led to a rise in local restaurants serving wild animals.

Faithful flock to pagodas

Post-Tet holiday, festival season comes

Perfume pagoda brims with visitors

When spring comes around, people from all over Vietnam descend on Chua Huong (Perfume Pagoda). The pagoda’s spring festival is one of the country’s most time-honoured and sacred events. From the sixth day of the first lunar month to the end of the third lunar month, pilgrims travel here in the hope of procuring health, prosperity, good luck and happiness for the year ahead.

But with hundreds of thousands of people all scrambling up the hill, the festival has become infamous for all the wrong reasons. Thieves prey off the distracted. The cable car system is overloaded. Hollows in the mountains transform into public toilets. Rubbish is strewn along the wayside.

For weeks the pagoda complex basically turns into a small town. You can find a string of restaurants, massage services, karaoke bars and even fashion shops.

The restaurants openly slaughter and trade wild animals – some of which are protected species. You can find deer, fox, civet, pangolin, weasel, and tortoise on offer. Young waiters and other restaurant staff aggressively solicit passers-by and intimidate anyone trying to take photos of the slaughtered animals.

Open market

A local boatman called Tuat claims that all the restaurant owners know its illegal but no one seems too concerned with landing in hot water. Animals are brazenly slung on hooks outside the restaurants. “Our wild animals come from Cuc Phuong National Park [a protected nature reserve] in Ninh Binh province and the forests of Hoa Binh province,” whispers one restaurant owner with quiet satisfaction.

And wherever there is a feast, there is sure to be alcohol. Inside the restaurants you will find pots of ruou (rice liquor) with infant goats, pangolins, cats and civets curled up in balls inside. The owners will claim that the animal-soaked alcohol is a tonic or cure-all. Of course, most of the customers throwing shots back don’t appear to be under the weather.

Behind the restaurants you will find animals kept in pens. A waiter happily shows customers around the back. The animals are slaughtered ‘to order’. A kilo of slaughtered weasel costs VND200,000 – VND240,000 ($10.5 -$12.6) while a kilo of venison costs VND300,000 – VND500,000 ($15.8 - $26.3). A pot of liquor can cost from VND450,000 – VND600,000 ($23.7 - $31.6).

Despite the high prices, business booms. One restaurant owner claims to sell 40-50 kilos of meat per day.

Tricks of the trade

After we agree to hire Tuat he elaborates on the local trade of wild meat. He tells us that wild meat has been served here since 2005. However, he claims when customers order wild animal meat, the restaurants are often actually serving a cheaper meat taken from slaughtered dogs, rabbits or oxen.

“Customers are being cheated,” says Tuat. “To make a rabbit look like a civet, its tongue and ears are cut off, while its neck bone is removed so that the neck can be stretched and appear longer. The rabbit’s body is then scorched by a torch and sold as a civet for 10 times the price.

“Turning a dog into a masked palm civet is more shocking. Firstly, a dog weighing 6 – 9 kilogrammes is killed and shaven. Then the head is covered with cloth and banged until it is broken up while the skin remains intact. The dog’s tongue and jaws are removed. After that a torch is used and the snout is stretched so that it looks thinner and smaller, like a masked palm civet.”

Restaurants also sell veal posing as venison. Tuat claims a calf is shaven and beheaded then ‘touched up’ to look like a deer. According to Tuat restaurants also hang wild animals stuffed with cotton to lure potential customers. Furthermore, the restaurants use a lot of cooking additives and spices to mask the taste of the meat so customers don’t realise that they are eating rabbit or dog.

Incompetent management

According to the local forestry division, local forestry protection forces are actively seeking violators. Restaurants selling dishes different from what they advertising are also breaking the law.

However, local inspectors claimed recently they could not find any evidence that restaurants at Chua Huong were selling wild animal meat. The forestry division also lamented that it is difficult to curb illegal trade and slaughter of wild animals as they can only fine violators rather than shut businesses down.

A local oarswoman, Bui Thi Phuong claims local authorities’ inspections are not forceful enough. She also believes that the restaurant owners know exactly which palms need to be greased “The local security forces can’t do anything. I know many of them also support these restaurants as they are bribed by the owners,” says Phuong.

Source: Vietnam Investment Review

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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