In the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected over 1 million people across the globe, the Chinese authorities issued a ban on buying and selling wild animals for food, as the disease was claimed to have originated at Wuhan's wet market after contact with a sick animal.
While the ban applies to both captured and bred animals, it contains several major exceptions: the use of wild animals for fur, as pets, and for medical purposes is still allowed, the Wildlife Conservation Society commented.
This has spurred criticism from professionals. Criminologist Ragnhild Sollund of the University of Oslo, who has been researching trade in wildlife, called the Chinese ban “cosmetic”.
“I don't think this coronavirus causes Chinese or other Asians to stop these practices of using wild animals for food, clothing, and medicine”, Sollund told national broadcaster NRK.
With that, the present conditions still allow for a new infectious virus to spread, she ventured.
“It doesn't go far enough”, biologist, nature photographer, filmmaker, and MP for the Socialist Left Party Arne Nævra said. According to Nævra, there are three reasons to stop this practice, “animal welfare reasons, preventing transmission of infection, and stopping trafficking in critically endangered animals”.
Nævra and Sollund believe the Norwegian government should act more forcefully in this matter.
“Norway should tell China that by continuing this activity, they put species at risk of extinction and they should at least not let imports of such goods go unhindered”, Sollund said. She also ventured that China is “endangering the health of the whole world” by continuing this “harmful exploitation of animals”.
Nævra predicted a global settlement within wildlife trade.
“The international community will push for a settlement after the corona crisis. Possibly, the UN and the World Health Organisation will take the lead and finally put in place a ban on trade in wildlife”, he said.
Ragnhild Sollund stressed that all countries should join forces in the ban.
“It is easier to enforce a total ban than a partial legalisation. This is because of the problem of parallel legal and illegal markets, where illegal products and animals can be washed into the legal market”, Sollund explained.
The Chinese Embassy admitted than wildlife plays an important role in traditional Chinese medicine, however most of these ingredients (87 percent) come from herbs and only 12 percent comes from animals.
It also stressed that through strict legislation and monitoring, China manages to preserve wildlife while at the same time contributing to public health. It also emphasised China's role in protecting endangered species, such as the giant panda, the Asian elephant, the Tibetan antelope, and the crested ibis.
Trafficking in wild mammals is mostly conducted in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa, according to the journal Science. Global legal trade in wildlife is worth around €86 billion ($93 billion) a year, according to Dutch criminologist Daan van Uhm. The value of the illegal trade is harder to pinpoint, but the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has estimated its extent at $7 to $23 billion annually.
So far, the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has spread to 1,270,000 confirmed cases across most countries bar several island nations, with at least 69,450 fatalities from the disease.