BEIJING, China - One lucky diner enjoyed a special treat yesterday when he ate what scientists confirm was the last of China's rare white dolphin. In an effort to promote tourism and China's unique cuisine, officials raffled off the opportunity to dine on the last remaining specimen, which had been housed in the Center of Environmental Science at Peking University.
Also known as the Yangtze River dolphin or bajji, the species was one of the world's oldest, dating back more than 20 million years. The diner, a Westerner who requested that his name not be disclosed, was notified that he had won the meal three weeks ago and since then has been contemplating how he would have the dolphin prepared and whom he would share this historic meal with.
"I've been very fortunate," said the soft-spoken man with a gentle smile, "I've been able to dine on a number of rare - and now extinct - animals. In addition to the bajji, I was the last man to eat a western black rhinoceros [declared extinct July 7, 2006], a Pyrenean ibex [declared extinct January 6, 2000] and a Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey [declared extinct in October 2000]. I will say there is something very solemn about devouring the last of a species. Something very solemn and very special."
The facility that prepared the bajji was also not identified. The man did say that approximately 17 people joined him for the meal - mostly like-minded extinction enthusiasts. "We tend to get together one or twice a year," he explained, "to eat the last of a species or one that is at least endangered. It's all good fun."
The bajji, he said, was sliced into steaks and grilled over an open fire. It was served with a cream sauce, mixed greens, a tortoise soup, brazed snake and eggplant, shad roe and an assortment of cool deserts. "All in all," according to the man, "it was an outstanding meal - made better by the knowledge that no one else would ever be able to enjoy it again."
Not everyone shared his pleasure however. August Pfluger, a Swiss scientist who has been working with Chinese researchers to track - and if possible preserve - the bajji, was aghast. "I have heard of such a thing," said Pfluger, "but always I imagined that it was only a rumor, that no one would be so short-sighted as to eat the last of a species. If this is truly how a 20 million year old animal leaves the earth it is a blight upon our species."
Chinese officials disagreed. "In the Bible we read that there is a season for every purpose under the sun," read a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. "Today, after 20 million years, the season of the bajji has drawn to a close. How fortunate are those who were selected to savor its flesh for the final time."