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The Big Picture
China bans sale of wildlife following coronavirus

Abstract

Josh Loeb reports on the action China is taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus

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It’s been incredible how many calls there have been to end wildlife consumption from all sectors

If the virus panic currently sweeping the world has a silver lining, it is the fact that it has woken Beijing up to the issue of consumption of wildlife.

The new strain of the coronavirus pathogen that is causing concern is believed to have originated from a ‘wet market’ where exotic animals (reportedly including live turtles, snakes and hedgehogs) were traded as meat alongside domestic farm animals. Wildlife parts are also known to be used in some traditional Chinese ‘medicines’.

For years wildlife conservation groups have urged China’s leaders to take a tougher stance on the wildlife trade – in the interests of public health as well as to protect species. Now the Communist Party of China seems to be finally taking notice.

Last week Chinese state media announced a sweeping ban on the transportation and sale of wildlife (understood not to include fish and seafood), both online and offline, with a hotline established through which people can report violations. The ban will remain in place until such time as the coronavirus outbreak is over.

Chinese security services have been tasked with investigating breaches, and ‘severe’ punishment has been promised for flouting the ban.

The sudden crackdown has been applauded by conservation groups. They hope China will go further and make its ban permanent and are also urging other countries to follow suit.

Vet Christian Walzer, from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said: ‘The banning of such sales [in China] will help end the possibility of future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, such as the Wuhan coronavirus. We learned this lesson with the outbreak of another zoonotic disease, SARS, in 2002. 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 Zoological Society of London and the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation also said China’s wildlife trade ban should never be lifted.

Perhaps the most striking development has been the willingness of state-run media in China to encourage the country’s citizens to publicise their opposition to the wildlife trade, according to the campaign group WildAid. China is a one-party state where the media is tightly controlled, meaning this move is seen as indicative of a sudden shift in thinking by the government.

‘It’s been incredible how many calls there have been to end wildlife consumption from all sectors of government, academia, media and members of the public through social media comments,’ said Steve Blake, WildAid’s representative in China. ‘It’s been one of the major themes in reports and discussions on the virus here.’

WildAid cited in particular an opinion article published in China Daily, the English-language newspaper of the Communist Party of China’s publicity department, which called for the wildlife trade ban to become permanent.

‘The opinion piece could not have run without some level of permission from the top echelon of the government,’ WildAid noted in an analysis that went on to hail developments in China as having shown the world that the country could ‘crack down on the wildlife trade when it wants to’ and was also willing to ‘let frustrations air’ when dealing with the issue of zoonotic diseases. ●

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