China has earlier temporarily banned the trade of live animals at food markets in January, following reports on the potential links of wildlife animals and the new coronavirus (COVID-19).
Nevertheless, the people in China are still not refraining from eating wildlife and using animal parts for medicinal purposes as nearly 700 people were arrested for breaking the temporary ban on catching, selling or eating wild animals since the ban was issued on 26 January.
Reuters reported that China’s police have been raiding houses, restaurants, and makeshift markets across the country for the past two weeks and the crackdown had netted nearly 40,000 animals including squirrels, weasels, and boars.
Following that, legal animal traders planned to reopen the business after the ban is revoked.
Trader Gong Jian, who runs a wildlife store online and operates shops in China’s autonomous Inner Mongolia region, told Reuters that he would like to sell again once the ban is lifted.
“People like buying wildlife. They buy for themselves to eat or give as presents because it is very presentable and gives you face,” he said.
Wholesale wildlife store owner Xiang Chengchuan said, “We are in a sun-setting business. Few people eat dogs now, but it was popular 20 years ago.”
He planned to resume selling gift boxes of deer antlers and dog, donkey and peacock meat once the ban is lifted.
“I will resume selling once the policy allows us, but now I have no idea how long it (the ban) will last,” Mr Xiang said.
Retired researcher of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Wang Song commented, “In many people’s eyes, animals are living for man, not sharing the earth with man.”
Debates to permanently ban on trade in wildlife
One thing that both coronavirus and the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2003 have in common is that scientists believe that both were likely passed from bats to humans.
This has triggered debates among academics, environmentalists, and residents in China about the use of wildlife for food and medicine and even calls for a permanent ban on trade in wildlife.
On 3 February, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “It is necessary to strengthen market supervision, resolutely ban and severely crack down on illegal wildlife markets and trade, and control major public health risks from the source,” Xinhua News Agency reported.
Head of China’s Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation Dr Zhou Jinfeng said they were very happy and encouraged by President Xi’s statement, CNBC reported.
″(A permanent ban) is very, very important. Because any advocacy, code of conduct and supervision will lack the basis if there is no legal basis,” he told CNBC via email.
Meanwhile, netizens in China which are predominantly younger also urged for a permanent ban on trade in wildlife.
A commenter Sun wrote on website Sina, “One bad habit is that we dare to eat anything. We must stop eating wildlife and those who do should be sentenced to jail,” Reuters reported.
Another commenter Onlooker Pharaoh noted the risk was worth it and wrote “Giving up wildlife to eat as food is like giving up eating because you might choke.”
Activists described the licensed farms as a cover for illegal wildlife trafficking
For many citizens in China, especially those in rural or poorer regions in the country, the breeding and trading of wild animals are their sources of income. In fact, it is supported by the government.
Following the SARS outbreak in 2003, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) has tightened inspection of the wildlife business, licensing of legal farming and the sale of 54 wild animals and approved breeding of endangered species for environmental or conservation purposes.
China Policy Specialist for the Humane Society International Peter Li said the state forestry bureau has always been the main force to support wildlife use.
“It insists on China’s right to use wildlife resources for development purposes,” Mr Li said.
Despite NFGA‘s measures on wildlife business, activists described the licensed farms as a ‘cover’ for illegal wildlife trafficking where animals are being used as food or medicine instead of being freed.
Dr Zhou indicated licensed farms are being used as a premise to do illegal trading, adding that there are no real pangolin farms in China.