The meat lay on wooden cutting boards for MasterChef’s contestants: shark, crocodile, venison, and a slab from the “world’s largest rodent,” which the glamorous judge assured tasted more like pork.
While the cooks may have been a little too queasy to come up with tasty dishes, there was another problem with the January 3 episode of MasterChef Ecuador. Environmentalists say that some or all of the meat may have come from protected species.
The outrage has reached the environmental ministries of both Ecuador, where the show was broadcast, and Colombia, where it was filmed.
The National Animal Movement of Ecuador (MAN for its Spanish acronym) released a statement after the episode aired pointing out that the consumption of these kinds of animals is prohibited in Ecuador except in cases of subsistence hunters. “Exceptions that clearly do not apply to said show,” the release stated.
MAN alleged that it is also illegal to eat these animals in Colombia.
“We ask the producers of the program and the channel that broadcasts the program for an explanation of where the meat of these animals came from,” MAN said in the statement.
“These types of ‘dishes’ in these types of ‘shows’ seek to normalize the consumption of protected animals, whose possession masks the trafficking of wild animals and the destruction of ecosystems.”
MasterChef Ecuador is produced by Teleamazonas, a local broadcaster that licenses the format from Paris-based global content producer and distributor Banijay. Teleamazonas has not commented on the accusations and did not respond to emails from VICE World News by publication.
Banijay’s global guidelines for the program prohibit the use of meat from animals that are on any local or international list of endangered species and require all ingredients to be sustainably sourced.
As questions about the show surfaced, MasterChef Ecuador quickly removed the episode from YouTube—where all 90-minute-episodes are available for free—and edited out the section using the rare animals, then reposted the shortened version.
MAN tweeted an excerpt of the deleted portion of the episode, where four pieces of meat were brought out for the contestants. The animals, found predominantly in Latin America, were labelled with their Spanish names as tollo, banilla, venado, and capibara, although it's not quite clear exactly what subspecies some of the meats were.
Tollo, a colloquial name used around South America for certain kinds of sharks, is often a Humpback smooth-hound shark, which is critically endangered due to overexploitation. Tollo is also used to refer to around a half-dozen other species of sharks in the region that are endangered as well.
Banilla is most likely the spectacled caiman species of crocodile. While the Banilla has been deemed a threatened species in the past due mostly to the harvesting of its skins, conservation efforts in recent years have helped the species return and it is not currently endangered.
Venado—deer—is a term that is too broad to know exactly what subspecies it is, but Ecuador has at least two species of deer that are classified as endangered. Capibara, or capybara in English, is a rodent similar to a guinea pig that is not a threatened species, but is found principally in the wild.
Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAATE for its Spanish acronym) released a statement denouncing MasterChef Ecuador for using the animals in the show, saying that it “categorically rejects the promotion and dissemination of graphic or audiovisual content that encourages the purchase and consumption of wild species.”
“Although it was filmed outside the country, it exposes a situation that could lead to the illegal consumption of wild meat,” the statement read.
Colombian Environmental Minister Carlos Eduardo Correa also announced on Twitter that the ministry is investigating the allegations about the meat used during the filming.
“Trafficking and marketing of wildlife is a crime in Colombia,” said Correa.
MasterChef began in the U.K in 1990, and has since spawned dozens of international adaptations around the world, including Ecuador.