Push for Ban on Wildlife Markets
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Global crisis/pandemic – COVID-19
- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
In News: The spread of a deadly strain of coronavirus, sourced to a wildlife market in Wuhan and now a global health emergency, according to the World Health Organization, has thrust China’s live wild animal trade into the spotlight.
Images of sick, suffering animals in markets, and videos of bats boiling alive in bowls of soup have circulated in media, sparking outrage globally and creating the impression that buying live wild animals for eating is a megascale phenomenon in China.
The decision by China’s Government
On January 26, China announced a ban on its wild animal trade until the crisis is over. However experts worldwide say a temporary ban on wildlife markets in China to curb the spread of coronavirus is “not enough” and should be made permanent. They have denounced the trade for its damaging impact on biodiversity as well as the spread of diseases.
On February 24, the Chinese government moved to make permanent the temporary ban on the trade and consumption of live wild animals for food. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the country’s top legislative body, issued a decision that lays the groundwork for amending China’s Wildlife Protection Law, which governs the use of wildlife, to permanently criminalize wildlife as food. The decision further stipulates that the trade of wild animals for medicine, pets, and scientific research will be subject to “strict” approval and quarantine procedures.
This isn’t the first time Chinese officials have tried to contain the trade. In 2003, civets — mongoose-type creatures — were banned and culled in large numbers after it was discovered they likely transferred the SARS virus to humans. The selling of snakes was also briefly banned in Guangzhou after the SARS outbreak.
But today dishes using the animals are still eaten in parts of China.
The scale of the live wild animal trade in China is unclear, experts say. Many animals are poached, imported, and exported illegally—for food, medicine, trophies, and pets. The Chinese traditional medicine industry, which heavily relies on ancient belief in the healing powers of animal parts, is a massive driver of the trade.
The government allows 54 wild species to be bred on farms and sold for consumption, including minks, ostriches, hamsters, snapping turtles, and Siamese crocodiles. Many wild animals, such as snakes and birds of prey, are poached and brought to state-licensed farms. Some farmers claim that their animals were bred legally in captivity for conservation but then sell them to markets or collectors.
In markets, animals are dying, they are thirsty, they are in rusty cages and totally dirty. They may be missing limbs or have open wounds from their capture in the wild or injuries sustained during transport. The traders don’t handle them gently—they smash the cages down to the floor when unloading and loading. The animals suffer a lot. The chaos of the trade enables the spread of zoonotic diseases—those that spread from animals to humans. Wild animals can carry viruses that in a normal world, would not come into contact with humans. These carriers aren’t sick—they’re simply “silent reservoirs.” But as we encroach into animals’ habitats, we increase our exposure.
Seventy percent of zoonotic diseases come from wildlife. The diseases can be notoriously devastating: HIV, Ebola, and SARS are among those that have made the leap from wildlife to humans, spawning international outbreaks.
In wildlife markets in China and Southeast Asia, there may be 40 species—birds, mammals, reptiles—stacked on top of each other. The mixing of air and bodily secretions allows viruses to exchange, potentially creating new strains. Evidence points to bats as the source of the Wuhan coronavirus. It’s unclear which species then transmitted the disease to humans, but in an assessment of the Wuhan market, the coronavirus was detected in the live wild animal section.
Even the definition of “wild” is complicated. Local authorities often provide special licenses for farmers to breed animals for sale that are normally only found in the wild. That allows unscrupulous traders to pass off wild-caught game as farm-bred in markets.
The Way Forward
Ending the trade will be hard. The cultural roots of China’s use of wild animals run deep, not just for food but also for traditional medicine, clothing, ornaments and even pets.
The ban is an important first step, but Beijing can seize this crucial opportunity to close loopholes — such as the use of wild animals in traditional Chinese medicine — and begin to change cultural attitudes in China around consuming wildlife.
- Attempts to control the spread of diseases are also hindered by the fact that the industry for exotic animals in China, especially wild ones, is enormous. A government-sponsored report in 2017 by the Chinese Academy of Engineering found the country’s wildlife trade was worth more than $73 billion and employed more than one million people.
- The new ban makes an exception made for wild animals used in traditional Chinese medicine. According to the ruling, the use of wildlife is not illegal for this, but now must be “strictly monitored.” The announcement doesn’t make it clear, however, how this monitoring will occur or what the penalties are for inadequate protection of wild animals, leaving the door open to abuse. The Chinese government needs to avoid loopholes by extending the ban to all vulnerable wildlife, regardless of use.
- As culture cannot be changed overnight, it takes time, can China come up with another policy – how can we provide clean meat from that exotic animal to the public? Should it be domesticated? Should we do more checking or inspection? Implement some biosecurity measures?
The world watches – if China will be able to devise a strategy for a well-monitored and regulated trade, at each level or still run the risk of breeding a different version of coronavirus sometime in the near future.