Time for China to ban wildlife trade for good

February 04, 2020 10:35
A picture shows the shuttered Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan where some wild animals had also been on sale as culinary delicacies. Photo: Reuters

The Wuhan pneumonia epidemic that is now spreading across the world once again calls into question whether the Chinese authorities have learned any lesson from the 2003 SARS outbreak, as they continue to allow wild animal trade to go unchecked.

After the SARS crisis, medical experts worldwide had speculated that the virus could have originated from either bats or palm civets.

The speculation was eventually confirmed in 2017, when a team of mainland scientists found a kind of virus in the Chinese rufous horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus sinicus) that shares exactly the same genetic makeup with the SARS pathogen.

Although it remains unconfirmed at this stage as to where the novel coronavirus that has caused the current Wuhan pneumonia came from, it is widely believed that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in downtown Wuhan, where wild animals were also on sale as culinary delicacies, is likely to be the ground zero of the disease outbreak.

According to Professor Zhong Nanshan, head of the special task force of the National Health Commission, the Wuhan pneumonia may be closely linked to wild animals such as bamboo rats or raccoons.

During the SARS epidemic 17 years ago, wildlife trade was banned in the mainland, but only for around 6 months, after which it was back to business as usual across the country, until the recent outbreak of the Wuhan pneumonia.

Amid the national health crisis, Beijing again imposed a sweeping ban on wildlife trade on January 26, which will remain in force until the pneumonia epidemic is eliminated.

Now, we come to the question: why is it still a temporary but not a permanent ban? Are the 2003 SARS outbreak and the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus crisis still not enough to convince the mainlanders that consumption of wildlife meat can be deadly?

It is time perhaps for the Hong Kong delegates to the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference to lobby the central government to outlaw the trade of wild animals for good.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 31

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong Economic Journal