COVID-19: Beijing proposes to permanently ban harvesting of wild animals
Experts say an all-out ban may not be the right solution for China’s woes of wildlife trade
The Chinese government has proposed to permanently ban the hunting, trading and transportation of wild animals and disallow their captive breeding and consumption, according to CGTN, a state-run broadcast network.
The proposal is yet to be passed by the Chinese Parliament.
This had been a long-pending demand of researchers since they had linked coronaviruses, including the one that caused COVID-19, to China’s wildlife trade. These viruses usually get transmitted from animals to humans.
Even as more research is being conducted to confirm the source of the current outbreak, most studies have linked it to the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan city, the outbreak’s epicentre.
“Over the last 15 years we have found dozens of novel SARS-related coronaviruses in bats in China and other parts of the world. Our research has shown that there are populations of people in China who hunt bats that we know carry viruses related to SARS (and COVID-19),” Jonathan Epstein, an epidemiologist and vice president at EcoHealth Alliance, a science-based non-profit in New York that studies epidemics told Down To Earth.
“These people already have antibodies against these viruses. This means they have been exposed to them because antibodies could not be developed otherwise,” he added. SARS was also caused due to a coronavirus in China in 2003.
Three out of four past pandemics had been linked to the wildlife trade and had originated in China. The world’s most populous country has long been notorious for its wildlife trade.
The extent of human-animal interaction in China can be understood from the research work published in International Health, an Oxford University Press journal, this month.
“Two bats flew into our room, so we caught them to eat,” a 60-year-old female peasant of Guangxi province was quoted as saying. “I hurt my waist very seriously, it was painful. One day, one of my friends made some snake soup and I had three bowls of it, and my waist obviously became better,” a male peasant was quoted.
The paper’s authors said there was little understanding among the study’s participants about the transmission mechanism. “This is of particular concern in rural communities where close contact with bats and rodents was reported, and zoonotic pathogens have been detected in the widely distributed animal populations with the potential to spill over into the human population,” the authors warned.
Many conservationists have welcomed this proposal of the Chinese government. However, there are apprehensions about whether it will work.
“Banning or even reducing the sale of wild game may not be straightforward and it is challenging to change behaviours that are influenced by Chinese culture and traditions,” a paper authored by Peter Daszak and others of EcoHealth Alliance published on February 5, 2020, said.
“In addition to a strong belief in the purported curative power of wildlife and their by-products, the consumption of rare and expensive wildlife has become a social statement of wealth boosted by economic growth,” it added.
While current wildlife trade bans might help disease control at this moment, to prevent future disease emergence, market biosecurity including hygiene and sanitation facilities and regulations, and the source of animals traded at the market, needed to be improved, they said.
The surveillance of wildlife for high-risk pathogens had to go up since it was a known fact that many coronaviruses were circulating in China.