The permanent ban on China’s wildlife trade has led to the shut down of hundreds of farms breading wild animals – revealing the extent of the industry.

Nearly 20,000 wildlife farms raising species including peacocks, civet cats, porcupines, ostriches, wild geese and boar have been shut down across China in the wake of the coronavirus, in a move that has exposed the hitherto unknown size of the industry.

Until a few weeks ago wildlife farming was still being promoted by government agencies as an easy way for rural Chinese people to get rich.

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 trade to curb the spread of the virus at the end of January and began a widespread crackdown on breeding facilities in early February.

The country’s top legislative officials are now rushing to amend the country’s wildlife protection law and possibly restructure regulations on the use of wildlife for food and traditional Chinese medicine.

The current version of the law is seen as problematic by wildlife conservation groups because it focuses on utilisation of wildlife rather than its protection.

“The coronavirus epidemic is swiftly pushing China to reevaluate its relationship with wildlife,” Steve Blake, chief representative of WildAid in Beijing, told the Guardian. “There is a high level of risk from this scale of breeding operations both to human health and to the impacts on populations of these animals in the wild.”

The National People’s Congress released new measures on Monday restricting wildlife trade, banning consumption of bushmeat and sales of wildlife for meat consumption at wet markets between now and the time the Wildlife Protection Law can be amended and adopted. Untouched however, are breeding operations for traditional Chinese medicine, fur and leather, lucrative markets known to drive illegal poaching of animals including tigers and pangolins.

For the past few years China’s leadership has pushed the idea that “wildlife domestication” should be a key part of rural development, eco-tourism and poverty alleviation. A 2017 report by the Chinese Academy of Engineering on the development of the wildlife farming industry valued the wildlife-farming industry those operations at 520bn yuan, or £57bn.

Just weeks before the outbreak, China’s State Forestry and Grassland Administration (SFGA) was still actively encouraging citizens to get into farming wildlife such as civet cats – a species pinpointed as a carrier of Sars, a disease similar to Covid-19. The SFGA regulates both farming and trade in terrestrial wildlife, and quotas of wildlife products – such as pangolin scales – allowed to be used by the Chinese medicine industry.

“Why are civet cats still encouraged to [be eaten] after the Sars outbreak in 2003? It’s because the hunters, operators, practitioners need that. How can they achieve that? They urged the government to support them under the pretext of economic development,” Jinfeng Zhou, secretary-general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF), told the Guardian.

On state TV the popular series Secrets of Getting Rich, which has aired since 2001, often touts these kinds of breeding operations – bamboo rats, snakes, toads, porcupines and squirrels have all had starring roles.

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 agency on 17 February revealed that from 2005–2013 the forestry administration only issued 3,725 breeding and operation licenses at the national level.

But since the outbreak at least 19,000 farms have been shut down around the country, including about 4,600 in Jilin province, a major centre for traditional Chinese medicine. About 3,900 wildlife-farming operations were shuttered in Hunan province, 2,900 in Sichuan, 2,300 in Yunnan, 2,000 in Liaoning, and 1,000 in Shaanxi.

Original source: https://www.theguardian.com/

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