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China's Illegal 'Owl Wine' Is Allegedly Made with Live Birds

Recent photos of white-eyed owls floating in jars of “owl wine” created quite the stir in China and sparked outrage and calls for punishment.

From bull penis soup, to snake wine, to tiger bones, there is no shortage of exotic animal parts being used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The demand for these time-honoured animal-based cures has created a huge black market in China, despite recent regulations that makes it illegal to hunt and eat rare animals like the giant panda, golden monkey, or Asian black bear.

And while it may difficult for those in the sterile, pharmaceutically fixated West to wrap their minds around how 30-plus-year cobra wine can cure farsightedness and hair loss, in China, elixirs of this kind go back millennia.


READ: Good Snake Wine Should Taste Like a Meal in a Shot Glass

But as open as Chinese culture is to the use of animals to cure human ailments, don't mess with owls. Recent photos of white-eyed owls floating in jars of "owl wine" created quite the stir in China and sparked outrage and calls for punishment, the Shanghaiist is reporting.

Originally posted on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, the photos received over 6,000 comments and shares within four hours, the vast majority of which were negative.

This is 'owl wine' and it is utterly barbaric - made with LIVE birds

— The Sun (@TheSun) January 9, 2016

Following the online outcry, Sina, a Sichuan-based journalist contacted the owl wine vendor, who went by the name of Li and claimed that the five-kilogram jars could cure headaches and joint pain.

Li also divulged the secrets of good owl wine to the local journalist, revealing that birds had been kept in the jars for ten years to allow the alcohol to permeate the bird as much as possible.

The vendor also confessed to submerging the owls in the alcohol while they were still alive, a practice not uncommon in the preparation of animal-based "wines," as a recent video of a live snake being submerged in rice wine demonstrated.

"All owls are drowned alive," Li reportedly said. "They were submerged inside the mixture. Alcohol must be added constantly in order for them to soak through [the animals]. This way, the result of the medicine is better."

A final pro-tip from the owl wine maker: Drink only the liquid and don't eat the owl, as it "may contain bacteria that if eaten could cause a health risk." This isn't tequila, after all.

READ: China Can't Get Enough of Black Market Tiger Bone Wine

Despite a lack of scientific evidence supporting traditional Chinese medicine, its practices, which steeped in superstition and the concept of vital energy, are widely practiced in the world's most populous nation, often at the expense of rare and endangered animals. Even hybrid snake/owl combination wines are available in China, presumably for those trying to combat joint pain and low sex drive simultaneously.

Under China's new animal protection framework, any one who hunts, kills, buys, eats, or sells "rare and endangered species" is looking at up to 10 years in prison for serious cases, and the owl is a Class II protected species in China meaning that bottling it is against the law.