SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: February 24, 2020

SNIP: 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 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.

There is little detail available about the animals farmed across China, but local press reports mention civet cats, bamboo rats, ostriches, wild boar, sika deer, foxes, ostriches, blue peacocks, turkeys, quails, guinea fowl, wild geese, mallard ducks, red-billed geese, pigeons, and ring-necked pheasants.

Besides being used for Chinese medicine, much of the meat from the wildlife trade is sold through online platforms or to “wet markets” like the one where the Covid-19 outbreak is thought to have started in Wuhan.

“All animals or their body parts for human consumption are supposed to go through food and health checks, but I don’t think the sellers ever bothered,” said Deborah Cao, a professor at Griffith University in Australia and an expert on animal protection in China. “Most of them [have been] sold without such health checks.”