Coronavirus Stops Wildlife Trade In China In Its Tracks

Chinese police seized items suspected to be illegal wildlife       Photo: Associated Press  

The Chinese government announced on Sunday several drastic measures to attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus in China, including China banning the trade of wild animals until the coronavirus epidemic has been eliminated across the country — the ban was deemed necessary because it appears that the disease was transmitted to humans through a “wet” market that traded in game meat. The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal both reported that the Chinese government is being forced to examine its “failures to clean up the wildlife trade” and to determine whether it can clamp down on this trade once and for all after its failure to do so in the past.

Why This Matters:  There have long been calls for the Chinese to crack down on illegal wildlife trade — the question is whether the rapid spread of this virus and the fear and disruption it is causing will finally lead to an end to a permanent end to the wild animal trade there.  In China, markets like the one where the virus originated are common — at such markets, the meat and body parts of wild animals are sold as “culinary delicacies or used as traditional medicine.” These markets are extremely lucrative and drive poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking all over the globe.   Ever since the deadly outbreak of the SARS virus the government has known that another similar virus could break out due to these markets and could trigger another global epidemic but chose not to take tougher action.  If it does now, it will be the silver lining of the dark cloud of this deadly new virus because wildlife globally will benefit. And it may provide China the opportunity to re-make its image if it leads in adopting the plank to conserve 30% of the planet by 2030 when the world converges on China for the Convention on Biological Diversity global meeting later this year.

In China, Pressure To End Sale of Wild Animals Is Growing

The Wall Street Journal reported on a petition published last week and signed by 19 prominent Chinese scientists, including a former head of Peking University that said, “This incident should be used as an opportunity to rectify the chaos” in China’s wildlife trade.

Inside China, the regulation of these markets has been lax according to wildlife researchers and activists, and as a result, a black market in the trade of wildlife has thrived, with “restaurants often commissioning wild meat—including endangered species—from hunters via middlemen.”  Moreover, online trading “has also made it easier to source and distribute wild meat across China and to import creatures such as pangolins from other countries, exacerbating the risk of infections spreading over longer distances.”

Global Wildlife Organizations Called for More Action

“Christian Walzer, chief global veterinarian at the Wildlife Conservation Society, called the measure an ‘important first step’ but said the ban needs to be permanent.”

“The pattern will keep repeating itself until we ban, not only in China, but in other countries, the sale of wildlife, specifically for food and in food markets,” The Washington Post reported that he said in a statement.

“Peter Knights, founder of ­WildAid, said the current crisis might have been averted if the ban after SARS had been permanent,” and arguing that “it’s time for an advanced country like China to reassess the viability of a tiny industry that risks global pandemic, national image, animal cruelty and conservation concerns.”

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