Wuhan’s latest anti-pandemic measure is a bold move in an essential direction

Wuhan
Tracy Keeling

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic started in Wuhan, China. Although China is still investigating the exact origin of the disease, it’s believed it was connected to a live animal market in the city. Now, Wuhan has made a bold and promising move: it has banned people from eating wild animals for five years. The authorities have also introduced new restrictions on hunting and breeding wild animals. And it seems other provinces are trying to reduce the wildlife trade too.

Wuhan’s move is good for humans, if we want to avoid another pandemic. But it’s also good for (other) animals, many of whom are being pushed to the brink of extinction thanks to human actions.

The ban does come with some limits. But it’s a good start.

Danger ahead

Traders regularly sell animals at wildlife and live animal markets in a range of countries. They are, however, a dream come true for zoonotic diseases – illnesses that can spread between humans and other animals. As the Born Free Foundation points out:

The capture, farming, transport, crowding and handling of wild animals causes immense stress and often injury, suppresses their natural defences, and makes them highly vulnerable to infections

It also says that the conditions at markets are often unhygienic, with “no consideration for [the animals’] welfare” and that the:

close proximity of lots of animals from different species creates the ideal environment for pathogens to multiply and spread, and potentially mutate into forms that can infect people.

With many people coming into close contact with these other animals at the markets, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Closed for (some) business

So Wuhan is now banning the consumption of wildlife as food. The municipal government put a notice on its website detailing the changes, declaring the city a “wildlife sanctuary”. According to CGTN, the 10-point list includes banning the consumption of:

all terrestrial wild lives, rare and endangered aquatic wildlife under special state protection, and other wild animals

The authorities are also ‘prohibiting’ wildlife hunting and ‘controlling’ breeding of wildlife species. Meanwhile, the authorities promise a ‘crackdown’ on the illegal trade in wildlife and to “strengthen” education on the issues of wildlife protection. The ban will be in place for five years.

Two central provinces in China – Hunan and Jiangxi – also announced plans recently to ‘buy out’ farmers breeding wildlife. The plans would see people compensated for ceasing wildlife breeding and switching to farming alternatives.

Following the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government temporarily banned the consumption of most wildlife as food too.

The beginning, not the end

There’s more human use of other animals that needs to end, too. Because none of the restrictions so far include the use or consumption of wild animals in medicine – which is big business in countries like China. In fact, in its advice in March on diagnosis and treatment for coronavirus, China’s National Health Commission itself recommended a product with bear bile in it.

Consuming wild animals’ parts in medicine is risky, too. Big cats have reportedly contracted coronavirus. But in so-called traditional medicine, people kill lions and tigers to use in ‘cake‘ and ‘wine’. South Africa is a major player in the trade, with an estimated 200 lion breeding farms which make big money from them at each stage of their tragic lives – including selling their bones. Prof Irvin Modlin of the Yale University Medical School has already raised the alarm about the potential transmission of tuberculosis in lion bones. Given the unknowns surrounding coronavirus and, indeed, future yet unknown zoonotic diseases, consumption of these ‘cakes’ and ‘wine’ is a health hazard waiting to happen.

As Dr Mark Jones, head of policy at Born Free, told The Canary:

A return to business as usual cannot be an option as we emerge from Covid-19. We therefore very much welcome the moves made by the Chinese authorities at national and local levels to ban the trade in and markets for wild animals as food. We also urge those authorities to go much further, by recognising that it’s not just the use of wild animals as food that presents a risk, but also the huge range of other purposes for which animals are traded, including traditional medicines, exotic pets, trophies, fur, ornaments, and as investments, and that those risks exist at all points along the trade chains.

This is not just a Chinese problem, although China has an opportunity to show global leadership in protecting nature and public health, and in transitioning those who currently depend on wild animals for income or sustenance to alternative livelihoods and food sources. We urge the authorities to act accordingly.

The devil is in the detail

Meanwhile, Ape Alliance chair Ian Redmond argued that enforcement of such bans was key. In a statement to The Canary, he said:

The reports of wildlife markets being closed are very welcome – but enforcement of the ban on butchering and eating wild animals will be key. The difference between legal and illegal trade is academic from the point of view of a pathogen – opportunity is all that matters. So if the ban drives the trade underground, the risk remains unless it is accompanied by effective public education and strong enforcement.

Reports have been circulating for years of illegal wild animal shipments to China, riding on the legal trade, and the cruelty involved in breeding and selling wildlife for consumption as food or ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’, to the consternation of conservationists. This issue takes on a new importance in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In December 2019, for example, China received an illegal import of 32 baby elephants from Zimbabwe. The Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) passed a resolution earlier in the year that banned the removal of African elephants from their natural habitats and ranges. Redmond continued:

Investigations by animal welfare and conservation organisations have previously focussed on the impact of the wildlife trade on wild populations of endangered species, and on the suffering of the individual animals in shipment, training and display in cages and enclosures that do not meet international standards. With the world’s attention being focussed on zoonotic diseases, perhaps at last action will be taken not just to close wildlife wet markets but also to prosecute offenders and close down facilities which bring stressed, unhealthy wild animals into close proximity to keepers, performers and the Chinese public.

A few years ago I visited the Chimelong Safari Park and International Circus in China, and was shocked to see for myself the use of giraffes, monkeys, lions, Pygmy Hippo, peacocks, tigers and bears in front of thousands of people, mostly families with children… in the post-Covid world, there is a public health reason to bring such abuse of animals to an end.

The end, unless we act

Just as important for humankind and other animals is the fact that we’re living through a climate catastrophe. And the loss of biodiversity on Earth is a major part of that crisis. If we keep using, eating, abusing, and killing other animals the way we are now, there’s no way out of this environmental armageddon. In the preservation of the lives of other animals and their ability to live – such as their homes, water and food – lies humanity’s salvation. As Jones told The Canary:

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the consequences of our destructive and exploitative relationship with nature and wildlife, and the dangers of exposing wild animals to stress and poor welfare conditions, to the public and policy makers across the world. Without transformative changes to restore the natural world and reduce our exploitation and mistreatment of wild animals, future zoonotic pandemics are inevitable.

So on two critical existential levels – pandemics and the climate crisis – Wuhan, Hunan, and Jiangxi’s actions are a good first step. But they certainly shouldn’t be the last.

Featured image via South China Morning Post/YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. Amazing. The Canary literally has an article next to this one telling people to stop listening to the Government and Mainstream media, then publishes a load of guff from China quoting the CGTN, literally the mouthpiece for the Chinese dictatorship. Tracy my dear, if you genuinely believe a word of what comes out of China, I have some beans you may be interested in purchasing.
      Another article on The Canary is criticising American democracy. Pray tell me, how much democracy is there in China? How are Black people and Muslim People treated in China? How are the workers in Apple factories etc treated? Yet you praise them after they at the very least covered up the emergence of Covid 19 allowing them precious time to buy up PPE supplies. The outbreak of Covid 19 in China was at the very least negligent and releasing some tokenistic statement around wet markets that will be ignored by the population won’t do anything. There already several Youtube videos released recently that show wet markets as clean, well organised and hygienic places to shop. The hand of the Chinese dictatorship well and truly behind the propaganda. As one HK protestor put it so eloquently; China is asshoe.

    2. “believed to be connected to a live food market in Wuhan”. Believed by whom?
      Other possibilities (not exhaustive):
      – it was bio-engineered and either accidentally or deliberately released from one of the dozen or so BSL4 labs around the world (most of them funded by the USA) including the lab in Wuhan;
      – it came originally from the lab at Fort Detrick (home of the anthrax used in the wake of 9/11), which was closed down for reasons not made public last year, possibly in connection with a spate of disabling respiratory illnesses among soldiers;
      – it was carried (accidentally or deliberately) to Wuhan by US participants in the world military games – some of whom appear to have suffered from an infection;
      – some other source, presently unknown, but the evidence of preplanning, modelling and simulating suggests it was not accidental.

    3. So many historical pandemics or ‘plagues’ have originated out of the far east. Why? What’s particular about that area of the planet that has spawned widespread planetary contagion time-after-time? It’s a matter of luck none of the contagions so far down the many centuries haven’t completely wiped out us pathetic homo sapiens. With scientists now fiddling around with pathogens in numerous countries on the back of pharmaceutical fiscal wisdom searching for pecuniary profitability in achieving immortality in pills, potions and inoculations we could hit the jackpot soon in a complete wipeout where no clever profiteering efficacy will have safeguards to work against a final ‘escaped’ lab-created Frankenstein-virus. It’s great always to be ‘led by the science’ ain’t it?

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