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Global Times

Lawmakers amend law to further ban wildlife eating, trading amid epidemic

Global Times

By Li Qiao, Shan Jie and Cao Siqi Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/11 19:43:40

○ The novel coronavirus is believed to be from wild animals, which triggered debates

○ People urge a ban on eating and trading of wildlife

○ China's lawmakers have started amending its Law on Wildlife Protection amid the epidemic

The ongoing novel coronavirus epidemic has renewed motivations to ban eating and trading wild animals in China.

Scientists found that the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province and killed more than 1,000 people, is very likely transmitted from wild animals, such as bats and pangolins.

The epidemic of SARS in 2013 is also believed to have origins in eating wild animals such as civet cats in southern China.

China's lawmakers have launched the amendment work of the Law on Wild Animal Protection amid the novel coronavirus to legally enhance the crackdown on and punishment of hunting and eating wild animals, said Wang Ruihe, a senior official at the Standing Committee of National People's Congress (NPC) on Monday.

On Tuesday,South China's China's Guangdong Province announced a ban on the trade and indiscriminate consumption of wildlife.

The Law on Wild Animal Protection, which was released in 1989 and amended in 2018, prohibits the eating of protected animals.

According to the Xinhua News Agency, the law bans hunting and killing key protected animals, as well as selling, buying and using these animals and their products. The list includes 406 national first- and second-class protected terrestrial wild animals, and 1,591 other valuable terrestrial wild animals, together with 120 kinds of insects.

This drive for legal action comes as the nation has been reflecting on the problem of illegally eating wild animals, which severely threatens the security of public healthcare, according to the website of the NPC.

Wang noted that the current supervision and enforcement of the law is not enough. Many markets are still selling wild animals and a big industry still exists, which brought great huge risks to public healthcare security.

Bats as source

The source of the novel coronavirus was from the Huanan Seafood Market and wild animals played a key role, Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a press conference on January 22.

Shen Yongyi, a professor and member of the research team, said previous researches had found the novel coronavirus originated in bats, but as the current outbreak happened in winter, it was unlikely that people had been directly infected by bats, which are hibernating.

Bats are not common food in Chinese cuisine. However, photos of "bat soup" posted online showed that a small group of people had eaten bats out of curiosity. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), bats are believed to be effective in curing ailments such as coughs and colds.

The founding of bats being the origin of the coronavirus immediately caused panic among many people. On February 3, the wildlife administration in Shanghai was sent out six times to drive out bats living in residents' homes, news website eastday.com reported on Saturday.

Wang Fang, a research fellow at the School of Life Sciences under Fudan University in Shanghai, said that the bats commonly seen are not the same species that hosts the coronavirus.

He noted that diseases that come from bats also accompany humans' intrusion to bats' natural habitat. Moreover, hunting and eliminating bats would bring higher security risks and ecological degradation, according to the report.

Animal hosts

Afterwards, pangolins were identified as a potential intermediate host of the novel coronavirus, South China Agricultural University announced on Friday.

According to a Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network research paper, pangolins have been viewed as an important source of TCM and food throughout Chinese history.

Pangolin scales, combined with other materials, are used in TCMs to promote blood circulation, stimulate lactation, disperse swelling and expel pus, while pangolin meat is consumed as a luxury cuisine, often as a display of social status and hospitality, it stated.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Switzerland, more than 500,000 pangolins have been illegally trafficked globally since 2016.

Eating pangolins is completely prohibited since the Wildlife Protection Law came into effect in 1989.

However, the trade and use of pangolin scales continued in China, regulated for medicinal use with a special marking system established by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) in 2007.

This system allows pangolin scales from verified stockpiles of NFGA or other legal sources, such as legal imports from African countries, to only be directly used in about 700 licensed hospitals and from about 70 patented medicines manufactured by authorized pharmaceutical companies.

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) conducted an online survey about the consumption of pangolins among 1,035 people in Guangdong Province during January and February 2019. The study found that 34 percent of participants had bought pangolin scales. And 16 percent of them are estimated to have eaten pangolins.

Harsher enforcement

Even under the nationwide epidemic, some people still could not give up having wild animals.

On Sunday, the procuratorate department in Lin'an district, Hangzhou of East China's Zhejiang Province, detained three people who caught wild birds on a mountain on January 31.

On January 31, police in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region seized some frozen wild animals from the home of a resident who was reportedly to be selling the animals. The animals included 250 birds, 48 ferret badgers and 30 squirrels.

"This outbreak will serve as a wake-up call to anyone who eats wild animals. The intense fear of the outbreak helped change their outdated and mistaken perception. Wild animals are not food for human beings," Zhou Fei, chief program officer of the WWF China, told the Global Times.

China has the history and culture of eating wild animals, so there is a huge industrial chain full of business interests behind it. It brings difficulties for changing diet habits and strictly enforcing the Wildlife Protection Law, Zhou said.

Although China has banned the consumption of many protected animals, they still manage to appear on people's dining tables.

Some dealers only apply for the Domestication and Breeding License of Wild Animals and Operating License of Wild animals from NFGA and they carry out illegal trade in the name of conservation and domestication, Zhou said.

Zhou suggested the implement of stricter annual checks of license holders to ensure their businesses are operating legally.

Sun Quanhui, a senior scientific adviser at the international NGO World Animal Protection, told the Global Times that the protection of wild animals should be a public priority, but it has been managed and operated as an industry.

Forbidding people from eating wild animals could only solve problems on the surface while the total ban on commercial breeding is a fundamental solution, he said.

The overall survival of wildlife today is not optimistic, as trade and demand continue to rise. Continued commercial exploitations for profit will only exacerbate the crisis and undermine conservation efforts of China and the world, Sun said.

From the perspective of disease prevention and control, breaking the laws of nature and increasing contact with wild animals are bound to accelerate the spread of the virus and threaten human society. There are no winners in the crisis, and both humans and wildlife are victims. The outbreak can be seen as a warning to humans from nature, he stressed.

Sidebar: Animal lovers act in time of crisis

Although China is seeing the ongoing spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, Chinese people still do not forget animals that need to be taken care of.

More than 40,000 black-headed seagulls fly to Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province from Siberia to spend the winter. To ensure these seagulls can safely pass the cold weather, Kunming authorities have organized staff members to feed the birds twice a day since January 26, Xinhua reported.

In a video posted by Xinhua, a staff member wearing a mask stands among huge amounts of seagulls and throws food to these birds beside a lake.

Qinhu National Wetland Park in East China's Jiangsu Province is also trying to protect the health and safety of wild animals in the park, according to its official website.

The staff members of the park disinfect the breeding areas of elks and waterfowl twice a day, feed animals on antibacterial drugs and have increased their food supply.

The park's monitoring staff made a total of 72 inspection tours with a distance of more than 650 kilometers on February 3. No abnormal death of wild animals and migratory birds had been found, and no animals in the park were infected with novel coronavirus after inspecting 2,292 wild animals.

Animals living at zoos in China have also been taken care of well.

Wuhan Zoo had food troubles and sought help on Sina Weibo on February 1, saying that quarantine brought great difficulties to the zoo's food supply.

After the zoo sent distress signal to the public, it has received many donations of food. Alibaba's Freshippo Stores Hema Fresh sent 700 kilograms of loaches to the zoo.

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