Snake soup continues to be an iconic tradition in Cantonese culture. Yet little is known about the relationship between snake soup consumption in Hong Kong, wild snake populations, and the communities depending on this tradition for their livelihoods. We applied an interdisciplinary approach including interviews with shopkeepers and genetic analyses of snake meat samples to determine the species consumed in Hong Kong, their source locations, and shopkeepers’ views on the future of the industry. We genetically identified the common rat snake Ptyas mucosa, widely distributed throughout East and Southeast Asia, and the Javan spitting cobra Naja sputatrix, endemic to Indonesia, as the species most commonly consumed, which was consistent with interview responses. According to interviews, snakes had mostly been imported from mainland China in the past, but now tend to be sourced from Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. Interviews also revealed a pessimistic outlook on the continuation of this tradition because of various factors, including a lasting yet misinformed association of snakes with the 2002–2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. Given the COVID-19 pandemic and China's ensuing ban on the consumption of terrestrial wildlife, Hong Kong's snake soup industry will probably continue to rely on Southeast Asian sources to persist. Given the cultural and conservation issues surrounding this tradition, further research on the economic, ecological and social consequences of snake consumption is needed to examine the broader implications of snake soup and similar industries in the region.
Bibliographical noteWe thank Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden for providing tissue samples of snake species native to Hong Kong; John Allcock and the Oakley family for opportunistically collecting samples; and the snake soup shops we visited for providing snake meat samples.
This research abided by the Oryx guidelines on ethical standards. We obtained written consent from all participants prior to interviews and conducted this work with approval from The University of Hong Kong's Human Research Ethics Committee (EA1902021).
- Convervation issues
- Hong Kong
- Southeast Asia
- snake soup
- wildlife trade