'Animals live for man': China's appetite for wildlife likely to survive virus

​Traders wait for markets to open
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​Traders wait for markets to open

Traders legally selling donkey, dog, deer, crocodile and other meat told Reuters they plan to get back to business as soon as the markets reopen.


"People like buying wildlife. They buy for themselves to eat or give as presents because it is very presentable and gives you face," says Gong the meat vendor.

Gong said he was storing crocodile and deer meat in large freezers but would have to kill all the quails he had been breeding as supermarkets were no longer buying his eggs and they cannot be eaten after freezing.

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​Online debate
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​Online debate

The outbreak of the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,600 people in China, revived a debate in the country about the use of wildlife for food and medicine. It previously came to prominence in 2003 during the spread of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which scientists believe was passed to humans from bats, via civets.


Many academics, environmentalists and residents in China have joined international conservation groups in calling for a permanent ban on trade in wildlife and closure of the markets where wild animals are sold.

Online debate within China, likely swayed by younger people, has heavily favoured a permanent ban.Nevertheless, a minority of Chinese still like to eat wild animals in the belief it is healthy, providing the demand that sustains wildlife markets like that in Wuhan and a thriving online sales business, much of which is illegal.

AP
​Government support
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​Government support

The breeding and trading of wild animals in China is supported by the government and is a source of profit for many people.


After the SARS outbreak, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) strengthened oversight of the wildlife business, licensing the legal farming and sale of 54 wild animals including civets, turtles and crocodiles, and approved breeding of endangered species including bears, tigers and pangolins for environmental or conservation purposes.


These officially sanctioned wildlife farming operations produce about $20 billion in annual revenue, according to a 2016 government-backed report.

PTI
​Blurred lines
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​Blurred lines

Animal products, from bear bile to pangolin scales, are still used in some traditional Chinese medicine, an industry China wants to expand as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.


But the distinction between legal and illegal is blurred. The United Nations estimates the global illegal wildlife trade is worth about $23 billion a year. China is by far the largest market, environmental groups say.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an independent organisation based in London which campaigns against what it sees as environmental abuses, said in a report this week the coronavirus outbreak has in fact boosted some illegal wildlife trafficking as traders in China and Laos are selling rhinoceros horn medicines as a treatment to reduce fever.

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