A bamboo rat (left) and a koala. File photo
One of the tourists even phoned a radio station in Australia to report his discovery, as well as the fact that a live koala was being exhibited in an iron cage in front of the restaurant in Hotel Fisher, according to the Guangzhou-based New Express Daily.
Hotel Fisher is known for its seafood and wildlife cuisine in Guangzhou, a city celebrated for its delicious dishes.
According to the menu, 500 grams of koala meat sold at 139 yuan ($20).
"Koala meat can be fried, stewed and steamed," read the restaurant menu, the Australian tourist was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
But Lin Aizhen, deputy general manager of the restaurant, denied the restaurant sold koala meat dishes and other cuisines cooked with wildlife that is under State protection.
"The Australian tourist was actually the victim of a false alarm, as the restaurant never sells koala," Lin said.
Huang Ritong, manager of the restaurant`s purchasing department, said the animal displayed in front of the restaurant was actually a bamboo rat, which was purchased from the bordering Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region the previous month.
The restaurant purchased two bamboo rats weighing 5 to 6 kilograms each, and a kilogram of the bamboo rat changed hands at 80 yuan, Huang said.
"The bamboo rat was labeled as koala because the seller mistook the bamboo rat as a koala," he told New Express Daily.
An official from Guangzhou`s Wildlife Protection Office also denied the restaurant sold koala meat.
"The animal exhibited in front of the restaurant is not a koala, despite being alike in appearances," an unnamed official was quoted as saying. "Koalas have round ears while the animal exhibited in the restaurant has only small ears, and the color of its fur is also quite different from that of a koala."
"Koalas mainly eat eucalyptus leaves and live in eucalyptus trees while the animal exhibited eats carrot," the official said.
Koalas are protected by laws and regulations on the mainland and those who illegally slaughter and cook koala meat would be punished, he added.
Many local residents also refused to believe the restaurant sold koala meat dishes.
Chen Guanxiong, a white-collar worker, said he did not believe that restaurants in Guangzhou sold meat dishes offering up the cute koala.
"Too many fake products, including meats, have been found in the province in recent years," Chen told China Daily. "Now, few Cantonese people are still proud of eating wildlife meat dishes, or think wildlife dishes are a tonic, after they experienced the outbreak of fatal SARS in 2003."
SARS, which killed thousands of people around the world, was first detected in Guangdong. The virus that lead to SARS was finally found to hide in the masked civet, which used to be popular in local restaurants.
Guangzhou became the first mainland city to have koalas after the city`s Xiangjiang Safari Park in Panyu district imported three males and three females from Australia in April 2006.
The world`s first koala twins were born at the park in 2006.
According to a staff member from the Xiangjiang Safari Park, it now has 22 koalas from four generations.
"All the koalas are now living in their luxury homes and being well taken care of in the park," said the staff.
Koalas are the park`s major attraction to tourists and local residents, he added.