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Beijing mascots to help keep shark's fin off the menu

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, June 5 (Reuters) Rich Chinese who serve up exotic animals at dinner parties and banquets are being targeted by conservationists hoping to use the 2008 Olympics to drive their message home.

There are very few parts of China that have not been earmarked for improvement before the Games and on Monday, World Environment Day, it was the turn of the nation's wildlife.

Beijing organisers, who have made ''Green Olympics'' one of their core themes, launched an animal protection exhibition based on the ''Five Friendlies'' Olympic mascots from the steps of the city's Natural History Museum.

Conservationists hope they can use four of the mascots -- cartoon representations of a fish, a swallow, a panda and a Tibetan antelope -- to raise awareness of wildlife issues, not least the consumption of exotic animals.

''We're trying to make a link between mascots and wildlife,'' Lu Zhi, director of Conservation International (CI), told Reuters.

''We've been focusing on the consumption of wildlife, especially in southern China.

ENDANGERED SPECIES ''People get rich and don't know how to spend their money so they serve these animals at banquets to show their status. We want to drive home to the public that the people who eat wild animals should be ashamed, not proud.'' Shark's fin soup, bear's paw, camel's hump and monkey's brain are among delicacies served at banquets in China, while traditional Chinese medicine also makes use of endangered species.

Lu said the Chinese Gourmet Association had agreed not to use exotic wildlife in their meals and discussions were being held with representative bodies of practitioners of Chinese medicines.

''Turning awareness into behaviour is not easy and we need to keep repeating the message,'' Lu added.

''We're trying to use these mascots as vehicles to make it relevant to the people. Only when you make it relevant can you change behaviour.'' The exhibition is one of a string of activities organisers have planned over the remaining 795 days to the Games aimed at improving the living environment of wildlife in China.

''We hope that this campaign will show the people that (by) protecting nature, we are protecting ourselves,'' said Chen Run Shen, secretary general of the Wildlife Conservation Association.

REUTERS PM PC1633

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