Beijing – The city in the center ofthe crisis has banned the eating of wildlife, and Chinese farmers are offering cash to leave the breeding of exotic animals. Both moves come amid growing pressure on China to tackle illegal wildlife trade. it killed more than 320,000 people.
The Wuhan local administration, the city of about 11 million people in the central Chinese province of Hubei, where cases of the new coronavirus were first reported, announced on Wednesday that eating all wildlife is officially banned.
The city has also banned virtually all wildlife hunting within its borders, declaring Wuhan a wildlife sanctuary, with the exception of government-authorized hunting for “research, population regulation, epidemic monitoring and other special circumstances.”
Wuhan also imposed strict new controls on the breeding of all wild animals, making it clear that no one can be raised as food. City officials said the local administration would participate in a broader national wildlife purchase scheme.
The national plan is the first time Chinese authorities have promised to buy out farmers in an attempt to curb the breeding of exotic animals, animal rights activists say.
China has already banned the sale of wild animals for food as the coronavirus spreads around the world, citing the risk of spreading disease to humans, but trade remains legal for other purposes – including research and traditional medicine.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 ishave passed from bats to humans, before spreading around the world.
Two central provinces have already outlined details of a buy-out program to help farmers switch to alternative livelihoods.
Hunan on Friday set up a compensation scheme to persuade breeders to keep other animals or produce tea and herbal medicines.
Authorities will evaluate the farms and supplies and offer a one-time payment of 120 yuan ($ 16) per kilogram of snake rat, king rat and cobra, while a kilogram of bamboo rat will bring 75 yuan.
A Civet cat – the animal believed to have suffered severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in humans in another outbreak of coronavirus nearly two decades ago – would fetch 600 yuan.
The neighboring province of Jiangxi has also released plans to help farmers dispose of animals, as well as financial aid.
The state-run Jiangxi Daily reported last week that the province has more than 2,300 licensed breeders raising mostly wild animals for food.
Their stock is worth about 1.6 billion yuan ($ 225 million), the report said.
Both Jiangxi and Hunan border Hubei, the province where the coronavirus first appeared in December.
The animal rights group Humane Society International (HSI) said Hunan and Jiangxi were “major wildlife breeding provinces”, with Jiangxi experiencing rapid trade growth over the past decade.
Breeding revenues reached 10 billion yuan in 2018, the statement said.
HSI’s China policy specialist Peter told AFP that similar plans should be introduced across the country.
But he warned that Hunan’s proposals leave room for farmers to continue breeding exotic creatures as long as the animals are not sent to food markets.
The provincial plan also does not include many wild animals kept for fur, traditional Chinese medicine or entertainment.
Although Beijing has implemented measures to ban trade and consumption of wildlife since the outbreak of SARS, they have failed to stop trade.
Li said that the Chinese authorities were still moving in the right direction.
“Over the last 20 years, many people have told the Chinese government to buy out some wildlife breeding operations, such as bear breeding,” he said.
“This is the first time the Chinese government has actually decided to do so, which sets a precedent … (for when) the other proceedings must be stopped.”