The popular Chinese habit of eating live or half-cooked wildlife while labelling it 'exotic food', and openly trading in wild animals has recently become a thorn in the side of the Chinese government. The practice has not only resulted in the outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus, but has also contributed to crippling the city of Wuhan and eventually hitting the global economy.
Even though there have been many speculations, it has finally been confirmed by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention that yes, this bizarre wildlife-eating culture and unhygienic and open trading practices are to be blamed for the outbreak of Coronavirus, as reported by The South China Morning Post. This news came after the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention identified the potential source of the transmission of the first virus into the human body – the wildlife market at Hankou in Wuhan. All but one of the first group of patients were the traders at the market.
First Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) and now this new Coronavirus, Chinese virologists fear more deadly viral outbreaks may be seen in the future if Chinese trading in wildlife is not stopped.
The virus has already killed 132 people, affected 5,974 as confirmed cases and 9,239 as suspected cases so far, and it has spread to 16 countries, reports the China National Health Commission on January 28. Sars, which was also linked to wildlife, had killed 774 people globally and infected 8,098 in total.
During the Sars pandemic, Chinese scientists labelled "the wildlife markets as hotbeds of diseases" and demanded their closure. But the Chinese government ignored the warning signs and let the business continue. This ultimately caused the outbreak of another deadly infection.
In the backdrop of the Coronavirus outbreak, China has temporarily banned wildlife trading just the way it did during the Sars outbreak. But once everything goes back to normal, the ban will be lifted.
Frogs, snakes, bats, tigers, wolf cubs, civet cats, foxes, and many more wild animals are sold in the wet markets of China. Many people get injured, fall ill and some even die while trying to capture the animals. Some animals carry infectious diseases, and when they come in contact with humans, the diseases are transmitted to them.
With this unchecked wildlife business, China is not just putting public health at risk, the practice is also damaging the ecosystem and endangering many species of wildlife. Critics say China has a Wildlife Protection Law in place, but to the authorities, the business interest is greater than the law.
The trade has been devastating on the diversity of local wildlife. Pangolins have been wiped out from valleys and forests. Snakes are rarely seen anymore. Not more than 30 Siberian tigers exist in the wild in China. The number of bears has dropped by 93.4 percent since bear farming began, reports The South China Morning Post.
The wildlife trading industry only contributes US$605 billion to the country's economy. So, the gain is minuscule when compared to the loss the industry is causing to biodiversity and public health.
China, a fast emerging superpower, has seen a global backlash for its failure to control the recent outbreak of Coronavirus. The country has also been mocked for its 'gross' eating habits. A video of a Chinese woman eating a bat supposedly in Wuhan went viral on the internet, and the comment section got flooded with racist remarks. They blamed the Chinese eating habits for the outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus. However, the video was not set at Wuhan, it was in Palau, a Pacific island.
Nevertheless, the so called 'exotic food' not only harms the health and biodiversity, it also creates economic threats and gives others the chance to spread false propaganda against China.
Foreign traders are cancelling business trips to China. From the airline business, fashion industry, stock markets to oil price – everything suffered a loss as a result of the lockdown in Wuhan and the restrictions in other states of China out of the global fear of getting affected.
China must not take the issue lightly anymore. The ban cannot be a temporary measure. It has to be sustained to control diseases and save wildlife. We, as global citizens must not let China make short-term gains from their wildlife business by putting the whole nation's and the world's public health at risk. It is high time we collectively started pressing China to adopt a long term policy to stop the wildlife business.