As the rest of the world braces itself for an uphill battle, victory over coronavirus, according to Chinese authorities is in sight.  So what does this mean?  The market is open for business….

What’s on the menu?  Cat, dog, bats, scorpions, there is so much to choose from in many market places now opening up across China after being in lockdown for several weeks.

A winter recipe involving dog and cat or Chinese medicine involving bat might be traditional but it is far from acceptable, humane or civilised. 

Whilst many leap to the defence of traditional practices under the guise of “culture”, I would go as far as to say it is an insult to associate such backward barbaric processes with such a progressive nation.  China is an amazing nation steeped in history, famous for its inventions of which were are all indebted such as papermaking, the compass, and printing, to name just a few.

As an ancient civilisation, China enriched the world with philosophy, culture and forward-thinking which has placed it at the epicentre of progress, innovation and development.  In stark contrast to this modern and progressive culture is the use, distribution and consumption of wild animals which leads to the abuse and slaughter of hundreds of species.

As a global community it is the responsibility of every individual to ensure that we harness lessons and heed warnings from this pandemic so nothing of this kind can ever happen again.

To accomplish such an ambitious task we need to tackle the source and ask ourselves difficult questions.  Why did China find itself at the eye of the Coronavirus storm and previous outbreaks such as SARS?

The answer is simple and should not be ignored.  The use, trade and consumption of wild animals.

The live wild animal trade in China is rife, essential for many traditional Chinese medicines, a backbone of industry and peoples livelihood and more importantly, an ingrained part of Chinese culture. 

The suspected, yet to be confirmed origin of COVID-19 is the famous Huanan Market, the largest seafood wholesale market in Central China.  Whilst offering an array of local seafood delicacies its 1000 tenant occupancy is also believed to sell around 120 species of wild animals.

The suspected animal to human spread of the virus is believed to have originated from the rare pangolin which is on the international banned list for trading but continues to suffer at the hands of illegal trafficking in East Asia thanks to the belief that its scales and meat can cure a variety of ailments. Some of its healing properties are believed to include mitigating symptoms of anxiety, cancer, malaria and crying in children.

Recent scientific investigation has found that SARS-CoV-2 could have originated from bats but was also present in pangolin communities before being transmitted to humans.

Whilst many diseases have originally been present in other species, the use of the pangolin in Chinese medicine demonstrates how the animal became a vector in transmitting the virus to humans.

After mounting pressure, both domestically and internationally, on the 22nd January 2020, a ban on the sale of wild animal products was introduced in Wuhan.

By February, the Chinese government adopted legislation which would ban field-harvested or captive-bred wildlife, in a revision of previous wildlife protection laws. 

Previous laws designed to protect species had not had gone far enough to address the issue, with many lists not updated in thirty years and several loopholes allowing for very loose definitions of what constitutes “wildlife”.

Covid-19 has once again put the Chinese wildlife trade in the spotlight and for good reason.

As scientists across the globe scramble to find treatments and cures for this deadly disease, the pressing issue of the wildlife trade and the harm it can cause to the human population has become the elephant in the room.

For many scientists in the field, diseases like COVID-19 were expected and if the issue of wild animal trade, consumption, medicine and other impacts on natural habitats are not tackled we can all expect more cases and more diseases in the future.

The National Geographic Campaign for Nature makes this point, like others, that if important steps are not taken in permanently banning the trade and consumption of wild animals, it is not a case of “if” something like this could happen again, but when.

With terrified animals trapped in cages, piled up on top of one another, dead and alive, side by side and hygiene standards practically non-existent how can any of expect to see a virus such as coronavirus disappear or stop another one in the future.

The use and abuse of animals in China is abhorrent and needs to be stopped.  China currently accepts these practices as normal.  It does not mean they are and if the rest of the world is too terrified, due to the sheer economic power exercised by China, to say enough is enough, then we may as well sign our own death warrant.

This is not a hyperbolic, apocalyptic prediction, simply an observation from previous outbreaks of viruses and the insanitary, inhumane use of animals in the Far East.

Only recently, the Chinese National Health Commission produced a list of recommended treatments for coronavirus and included in the list was more traditional medicine such as, Tan Re Qing, an injection of bear bile.

The message is clear, Chinese medicine will continue to use wild animal products and if the global community does not stand up and put pressure on the Chinese to prevent this, we must all learn to accept that diseases such as COVID-19 will continue to thrive, spread and kill in its thousands.

Action must be taken.  Not just by the Chinese but the entire global community.  We all have a stake.

It is possible to turn the tide against this unprecedented pandemic however collaboration is key. 

We are all better than this.  Humans have managed to accomplish extraordinary feats in the face of adversity, this can be such a time.

Economics, politics and culture all has its place however not at the expense of human life. 

Jessica Brain

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4 Comments on "When culture causes a catastrophe…"

  1. Hi. Sorry for not commenting to the point. But next time when you write… those things after “what’s on the menu” can you please issue a warning for vegans/vegetarians? Please. Thank you. Depressed enough, I don’t need outside help. Sorry.

  2. I am very sorry if this article has caused you and any other future readers any distress.
    I must say I am disappointed to hear that as a vegan/vegetarian you cannot see how vital an article like this is for shedding light on animal cruelty.
    Sadly, I understand the truth can be confronting and I sympathise with your sensitivities.

    Nevertheless, in order not to feel “depressed” in these harsh times, actively trying to bring about positive change, awareness and discussion can only be a good thing.
    In these unprecedented times it is vital we all find the courage to tackle the difficult topics.
    Try and stay positive and proactive!
    Please be safe and thank you for your comment.

  3. Definitely important but I would like a head’s up. Those things get to me really fast, really deep. Which is another reason I turned vegan. The first few pages of Jonathan Safran Foer “Eating Animals” were enough to convince me. It also mentions global health risks from ill treatment of “regular” farm animals and the meat industry turning even bigger. On a side note, the place I live in gives me enough to be depressed about so don’t worry.

  4. This is not just a Chinese problem. My experience working in the conservation sector in Africa was that the consumption of bush meat increased with affluence. It was not just part of the diet of poor people in rural areas. City dwellers wanted to enjoy traditional delicacies and were able to fund a trade in a range of animals ranging from rats to primates. I would guess that similar situations exist in Asia and probably to a lesser extent in Latin America.

    Unless there are programmes to increase education aimed at instituting a change in the culture of eating wild animals in these regions, then we can expect further outbreaks of fatal zoonotic diseases.

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