Saturday, January 25, 2020

Wild animal markets in south-east Asia must be closed down

As yet another potential global epidemic makes its way out of China and into the rest of the world, the elephant (almost literally) in the room is the issue of wild animal markets.
After the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak of 2003, China imposed a temporary ban on wildlife markets, when they were fingered as the probable source of the outbreak, and health officials and scientists both in China and elsewhere issued grave warnings about the risks involved in allowing the trade and consumption of wild meat. (Remember, ebola also came from the consumption of wild monkeys in Africa.) But the ban was temporary, for some reason, and it wasn't long before wild animal markets opened up again in China, Vietnam and other parts of south-east Asia.
And so, here we are: the latest outbreak of a coronavirus very similar to SARS has been traced back to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, which also has a substantial wild animal section where live and slaughtered animals were for sale. There you could buy wild wolf pups, golden cicadas, scorpions, bamboo rats, squirrels, foxes, civets, porcupines, salamanders, turtles and crocodiles. And the diseases come for free.
Wild meat is an expensive, luxury item in China. Rich businessmen take their colleagues to wildlife restaurants. Some people think it has some ill-defined health benefits, and the rarer the animal the better.
The longer China (and the rest of south-east Asia and Africa, for that matter) panders to these obscure and benighted tastes, the more it puts its own population at risk, not to mention the populations of some animals. In our rapidly shrinking, ultra-connected world, the rest of us do not want to share those risks either, thank you very much.

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