China investigates 'rare pangolin banquet' in Guangxi
Chinese authorities have launched an investigation into whether officials held a banquet where the endangered pangolin was served, local media reported.
It comes after pictures of the feast, held in the southern province of Guangxi in 2015, resurfaced online in recent days and caused anger.
But Guangxi officials have reportedly denied the allegations.
The pangolin is on China's list of endangered wild animals.
Those caught eating it can be jailed for up to 10 years.
'In love with this taste of wildlife'
In recent days a post by Weibo user Ah_cal from July 2015 began circulating online.
In the post, which has since been deleted, Ah_cal included several pictures of what appears to be a lavish Chinese banquet and a close-up photo of a pot of cooked meat.
The Weibo user said he was hosted to a meal by officials where "cooked pangolin was served to us to eat".
"It was my first time eating it, the taste was very good, and I have already deeply fallen in love with this taste of wildlife!" he says in the post.
It attracted widespread condemnation online, and Chinese forestry officials have since said they are probing the incident, reported Chinese media.
News outlets have identified the Weibo user as a Hong Kong businessman who visited the city of Nanning in Guangxi as part of a group of entrepreneurs exploring investment opportunities.
The Guangxi Investment Promotion Bureau has since confirmed that it hosted the business delegation in 2015, but denied it held the banquet.
"We have diligently identified the diners in the photographs, and none of them belong to Guangxi Investment Promotion Bureau's leadership or its staff," a spokesman told newspaper Chengdu Shangbao.
A commentary carried by the Chinese Communist Party's official mouthpiece People's Daily raised the possibility that other provincial government departments could have hosted the banquet.
It also lambasted the Guangxi authorities. "The pangolin's scales are so hard, while the response from officials is so weak - with such a clear contrast, it is hard to dispel the doubts that have broken out," it said.
The pangolin is the world's most trafficked mammal - pangolins are believed to make up around 20% of all illegal trade in species.
In traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed that consuming the roasted scales of the pangolin can help to detoxify one's body and relieve palsy, while the animal's meat is considered a luxurious delicacy.
In September, the animal received extra protections at the Cites meeting where trade in eight species of pangolins was banned.