Will China’s Wildlife-Consumption Ban Work?
As part of its broader response to the COVID-19 pandemic, China has banned the consumption of wild animals, which should help to prevent the cross-species transmission of novel viruses in the future. But is the government willing to make the ban stick by enforcing it properly?
OXFORD – Since the outbreak of COVID-19, which is widely suspected to have emerged from Wuhan’s Huanan Market in December 2019, public-health and animal-rights advocates have been calling for more scrutiny of “wet markets,” where a wide range of live animals are kept in close contact with one another and with people, slaughtered on the spot, and sold. These markets are ripe for the cross-species transmission of novel pathogens, and they exist across Asia, where they support other industries, from restaurants and tourism to traditional medicines.
We have both had a glimpse of the wildlife trade in China. In 2016, while conducting interviews for research on underground banking in several Chinese towns near the border with Macau and Hong Kong, we met an informal banker who offered us more than just money-laundering services. “I could easily arrange for you to eat a monkey tonight,” she boasted, before giving us the address of a family-run restaurant on the outskirts of Zhuhai.
We declined the offer of ye wei (wild animal), but we decided to visit the establishment anyway. Traveling for about an hour from downtown Zhuhai, we soon discovered that restaurants illegally serving wild animals were common once one entered the more discreet locations beyond the city centers. Most of the animals, we learned, were sourced from local poachers or from wet markets like the one in Wuhan.