BEIJING (Reuters) - The southern Chinese city of Shenzhen suspended 14 police officers and put a police chief under investigation on Tuesday on suspicion of feasting on an endangered giant salamander, state media reported.
The officers allegedly were consuming the endangered animal, the world's largest amphibian, at a seafood restaurant, the state-backed Shenzhen Daily reported on Tuesday. The giant salamander can grow as long as 180 cm (6 ft).
China's leadership has called for Communist Party cadres and officials to forgo elaborate banquets and pricey junkets as it works to clamp down on government excess. Corruption, as well as a yawning gap between the rich and the poor, is a central source of public discontent with the ruling party.
Some of the police officers slapped and attacked a trio of reporters who were trying to photograph the banquet, snatching away their mobile phones and cameras, according to Southern Metropolis Daily, a respected newspaper in southern China.
Security personnel refused reporters' demands that they check surveillance video at the restaurant, the paper reported.
Numbers of the Chinese giant salamander, whose home is central and southern China, have "declined catastrophically" over the last three decades, mostly due to over-exploitation for human consumption, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Some in China believe consuming it can combat the effects of aging.
Traditional Chinese beliefs hold that animal products, such as bear bile and tiger bone, have medicinal properties. Environmental groups have decried a flourishing market for products made from endangered animals in the world's second- largest economy.
The Shenzhen Daily said the restaurant is unlicensed, and a representative of the eatery told the paper the salamander in question was raised in captivity.
The IUCN says there is some commercial farming of giant salamanders, but the vast majority being traded are believed to have been poached from wild populations.
(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Larry King)