World: COVID-19 Has Slashed Asia's Appetite for Wild Animals, a New Report Finds

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But the Covid - 19 outbreak, which has now led to 2,666 deaths and over 77,700 known infections, is thought to have originated in wildlife sold at a market in Wuhan in early December, prompting a massive rethink by authorities on how to manage the trade. China issued a temporary ban on wildlife But little was known about the scale of the wildlife farm industry before the coronavirus outbreak, with licensing mainly regulated by provincial and local-level forestry bureaus that do not divulge full information about the breeding operations under their watch. A report from state-run Xinhua news

Covid - 19 probably came to people through an animal , and likely started spreading no more than a month or two before it was noticed in December of 2019, a World Health Organization draft report finds . The report recommends more testing of blood samples taken and stored before the first outbreak in December, more testing of animals from Southeast Asia , and more in-depth study of mass gatherings that could have aided the spread of the virus. The report was written by a joint international team made up of 17 Chinese experts plus 17 experts from other countries, WHO, the Global Outbreak

About eight years ago, Li Hong began rearing snakes on a patch of land in China’s central Hunan province. The 7,000 or so elaphe carinata, commonly known as the king ratsnake or Taiwan stinksnake, he sold each year fetched around 2 million renminbi ($220,000)—far more than the 51-year-old previously earned as a migrant worker toiling in factories and on construction sites.

a person holding a baby: A breeder wearing face mask holds one-month-old white tiger cubs at Beijing Wildlife Park on April 2, 2020 in Beijing, China. © Zhao Jun/China News Service via Getty Images A breeder wearing face mask holds one-month-old white tiger cubs at Beijing Wildlife Park on April 2, 2020 in Beijing, China.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in the nearby city of Wuhan in January 2020, prompting the Beijing government to ban the sale of wild animals, which across Asia are often prized for purported health benefits, with their skins sold to makers of fashion accessories. Li’s livelihood was snatched away and he says he was compensated only 144 renminbi ($22) per kilo of snake destroyed.

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A wild animal market in Wuhan may have been where the outbreak of Covid - 19 began, and pangolins, in particular, have been proposed as a possible host of the virus before it jumped to people. China had already banned the wildlife markets. The action on Monday by a standing committee of the 13th National People’ s Congress went further. The decision on “Comprehensively Prohibiting the Illegal Trade of Wild Animals , Eliminating the Bad Habits of Wild Animal Consumption, and Protecting the Health and Safety of the People,” bans all trade and eating of non-aquatic wild animals .

COVID - 19 has affected both people and animals alike around the world. As lockdown and physical distancing measures are enacted, more people are staying home, while restaurants and most markets are closed – both vital food sources for stray animals ! The effect on stray animals is devastating as most are finding it increasingly difficult to find food. In Eastern Europe, our teams are seeing increased desperation of thin strays searching day and night for their next meal. Whilst food isn’t the only struggle strays face in Southeast Asia , with the economic situation worsening, the theft of dogs and cats for

“Today, market demand is very low and if we want to farm snakes, we have to go to the provincial forestry bureau for approval, which is a lot of trouble,” he tells TIME. “Now only medicinal-use snakes can be approved; other uses [like eating] are not allowed.”

Li is not alone. The pandemic has catalyzed sweeping bans on the sale and consumption of wildlife across the world as the public becomes more aware of the causes of infectious outbreaks. Ahead of the convening Sunday of latest World Health Assembly, a new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report reveals that nearly 30% of people surveyed across China, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the U.S. say they have consumed less wildlife, or stopped consuming wildlife altogether, because of the global health crisis.

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Daily reported cases in Bangladesh have come down significantly since then. In Pakistan, cases and deaths have also risen sharply, leading to fears about the strain on the health service. And the South Africa variant has also been found in Bangladesh. But it' s worth pointing out that genome sequencing in the region is extremely limited, so there isn't enough data to show if these new variants might be driving infections. And in terms of the overall spread of Covid , testing levels have been generally below or only just within the 10-30 tests per new confirmed case recommended by the World Health

image captionCovid- 19 has given new momentum to Beijing' s push to internationalise traditional medicine. China' s National Health Commission has a special TCM chapter in its coronavirus guidelines, while state media have been highlighting its alleged role in past outbreaks such as Sars in 2003. Six traditional remedies have been advertised as Covid - 19 treatments, the two prominent ones being Lianhua Qingwen - containing 13 herbs such as forsythia suspense and rhodiola rose - and Jinhua Qinggan - which was developed during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak and is made of 12

“The world has gotten a crash course this past year in pandemics,” says Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF-US. “Preventing future ones requires us to repair our broken relationship with nature, and that starts with ending the trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife and stopping deforestation.”

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Investigative team members of the World Health Organization visit Huanan seafood market in Wuhan on January 31, 2021 in Wuhan, China. Getty Images © Getty Images Investigative team members of the World Health Organization visit Huanan seafood market in Wuhan on January 31, 2021 in Wuhan, China. Getty Images

Attitudes to wildlife changing amid the pandemic

Research shows that COVID-19 is likely among the three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases that are “zoonotic,” meaning they jumped from animals to humans. Wildlife consumption is a major driver of zoonotic outbreaks, as well as destruction of natural habitats that pushes human and animal populations closer together. In China, civets, live wolf pups and pangolins have often been kept in cramped and filthy conditions, allowing diseases to incubate and then spill into human populations. Ebola, SARS, the Nipah virus and MERS are other examples of human diseases that began in animals.

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media captionCovid-19: How everyday life has changed in Wuhan. A team of 10 international scientists will travel to the Chinese city of Wuhan next month to investigate the origins of Covid - 19 , the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. Beijing has been reluctant to agree to an independent inquiry and it has taken many months of negotiations for the The virus is thought to have come from a market in the city selling animals . But the search for the source has led to tensions, notably with the US. President Donald Trump' s administration has accused China of trying to conceal the initial outbreak.

Although the consumption of wild animals is common across much of the developing world, China’s huge population makes it a key player in the issue. Wildlife farming began in China in the early 1980s with government backing, partly as an attempt to alleviate poverty and partly in the belief that farming exotic animals would help protect wild populations from hunters.

China’s wildlife industry employed 14 million people and had a market value of some $76 billion in 2016, with its exotic food sector comprising $19 billion, according to the Chinese Academy of Engineering. “The wildlife industry has effectively contributed to regional economic development and greatly increased the economic income of farmers and forestry workers and local tax revenues,” an industry report from Academy says.

But that changed following COVID-19. In February 2020, soon after COVID-19 was first detected at a market in Wuhan known for selling wild animals, the Chinese government announced a broad ban on wildlife consumption. Attitudes have changed fast, too, with an awareness about the dangers of eating wildlife across the country.

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Read more: Wild Animal Markets Spark Fear in the Coronavirus Outbreak

In China, 91% of respondents to the WWF survey thought closing wildlife markets was the most effective measure to prevent future pandemics. Meanwhile, 28% now consume less or have stopped consuming wildlife, with 41% of respondents in Thailand and 39% in Vietnam expressing similar changes of behavior.

Despite increased awareness, there remains a committed core of wildlife consumers, with 9% of respondents intent on buying wildlife products in the future in all five countries surveyed by WWF. And while the Chinese government has banned the trade in wild creatures, President Xi Jinping continues to promote Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, which includes many treatments that involve the byproducts of exotic animals.

Moreover, the survey didn’t include any nations in Africa, where consumption of “bush meat” has been an integral part of people’s diets for centuries. “It would be good to ban the live animal markets as China has done and some countries,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the acting executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, told the U.K. Guardian newspaper. “But we should also remember you have communities, particularly from low-income rural areas, particularly in Africa, which are dependent on wild animals to sustain the livelihoods of millions of people.”

Li the snake farmer had thought his livelihood assured. Now, however, the future is uncertain. He says the compensation he’s been promised isn’t enough to cover his feed and labor bills. He’s been forced to take out a bank loan and is instead growing herbs for TCM due to the low start-up costs.

“I have no choice,” Li shrugs, “but to abide by national directives.”

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