HANGZHOU, CHINA—According to a disturbing report released Thursday by the Species Survival Network, Chinese poachers have slaughtered more than 280 endangered Yao Mings this year, pushing the majestic creatures to the brink of extinction.
The 385-page report revealed that despite international efforts to protect the native Asian species, Yao Mings have recently faced an increased threat from the illegal wildlife trade, as poachers prize the massive yet serene land mammals for their valuable body parts, skin, and glands.
"During June and July alone, Chinese poachers butchered 116 Yao Mings in the mountainous Zhejiang province," said William Travers, chair of the Species Survival Network board. "What's even more alarming is that September marks the beginning of the Yao Ming rutting season, and the sweet-tempered primates will be less cautious and at even greater risk of falling prey to hunters."
"Poachers could potentially massacre thousands of Yao Mings traveling to their ancient breeding grounds searching for mates," Travers added. "It's tragic that anyone would hurt a gentle, intelligent, and beautiful Yao Ming that wants nothing more than to peacefully eat leaves from the trees."
A full-grown adult male Yao Ming, which can stand up to 7-feet-6-inches tall and possesses an enormous wingspan of nearly 2-and-a-half meters, can fetch up to $50,000 on the black market.
Although the Chinese government banned the trade of Yao Mings in 2002, the SSN report confirmed that demand has risen dramatically, largely because the skin of a Yao Ming is a popular material for jackets, shoes, and purses.
"They're so long and tall that the skin from a single Yao Ming can yield up to 45 designer handbags," Travers said. "Sadly, this situation has arisen because Chinese poachers can make more money from killing one Yao Ming than they could by working in a factory for 10 years."
According to the Global Yao Ming Conservation Authority, today there are fewer than 17,000 Yao Mings in China, down from 1.8 million in 2005. Hunters reportedly wiped out much of the population by needlessly taking the lumbering herbivores as trophies, oftentimes mounting their heads as decorations or using their enormous feet for wastebaskets.
"Yao Mings are trusting, social, and playful, so hunters often lure them into a trap by tempting their curiosity with a bouncing basketball," SSN treasurer Adam Roberts said. "And when the trap is set, they hack at them with machetes. Sometimes poachers cruelly wrench out all the teeth while the badly injured Yao Ming is still alive.
Though the Chinese government has set aside a 250,000-acre wilderness reserve for the species, poaching remains difficult to control, in part because many people believe that Yao Ming genitalia have therapeutic properties.
"It is quite common for Chinese men to use Yao Ming penises in traditional medicine, grinding them up into a fine powder and brewing a penis tea in hopes of increasing their virility," said Roberts, who has helped rescue and nurse back to health 15 Yao Mings that had their penises removed by poachers. "It's such a waste of precious life and money. People quickly learn that you can't improve your sex life by sipping on a hot beverage made from dried Yao Ming penis."
The SSN issued a statement this week urging consumers to boycott illegal products made from Yao Mings.
"The best way to help us stop the merciless killing of these tender creatures is by refusing to eat Yao Mings or wear apparel made from Yao Mings," the statement read in part. "And certainly do not try to keep a Yao Ming as a pet."