Endangered species in China

15:30, June 24, 2010      

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A 3-meter high giraffe nibbles leaves from a tree. A Chinese sturgeon weighing 400 kg swings its tailfin as it swims. A finger-sized warbler hovers as it searches for insects among the foliage. These are only three of the more than 2,000 animal varieties that are now exhibited in the Wuhan University Animal Specimen Museum.

In the eyes of Tang Zhaozi, former director of the museum, the dead animals are enjoying "the beginning of another existence". In these still lives the animals continue their existence thanks to the skills of the Tang family as taxidermists.

The 63-year-old is one of the fourth-generation descendants of his family - revered as "Specimen Tang" - possibly the longest-lasting family of taxidermists in China.

Founded in 1929 by Tang's grandfather Tang Chunyingthe museum leads the country with the 1,300 species and subspecies of birds in its collection. While its 56 kinds of fish, 98 kinds of amphibians, 126 kinds of reptile and 175 kinds of mammals, rank second only to the Specimen Museum of Chinese Academy of Social Science.

However, the once notable museum faded into anonymity after the zoology department was cancelled during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). The museum's last annual subsidy of 2,000 yuan ($293) was received 15 years ago. Since then the 20,000 yuan it makes from entrance fees during the annual Cheery Blossom Festival has been the only source of funds for the museum's operations for the entire year.

Thanks to the financial shortage, some 80 exhibits jostle in a small lab-turned-warehouse. Fortunately over the past three decades, they have survived the risks of flood and fire.

Despite being neglected in academic circles, Tang Zhaozi still holds a strong sense of family honor and he is determined to honor the skills carried forward and developed by each generation of the family.

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