Parallels drawn with SARS outbreak in 2003
China plans to amend the Law of Wild Animal Protection to crack down on those indiscriminately trading or eating wildlife, the top legislature said on Monday.
An amendment to this law has been added to this year's legislative agenda of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, according to the committee's Legislative Affairs Commission.
Wang Ruihe, director of the commission's Economic Law Department, said, "Public health security risks brought by the wildlife trade and the consumption of such animals have attracted a high degree of attention across the world. It's very likely that the novel coronavirus pneumonia outbreak was transferred to humans from wild animals and then progressed to human-to-human transmission."
To ensure public health and safety, and strengthen risk management, the commission decided to improve laws on wildlife protection and strengthen law enforcement supervision to combat the illegal trade in wild animals and to eliminate excessive hunting and indiscriminate consumption of such animals, Wang said.
The Law on Wild Animal Protection, which was revised in 2016, has made the protection of wildlife a priority, he said, calling on people to follow the regulations and urging government departments to provide strict supervision, but there are still some problems with this legislation.
"Related rules to support the law have not been put forward promptly, while specific methods, directions, standards and technical regulations to protect wildlife have also yet to be introduced," Wang said.
Action:Public needs vital knowledge
To ensure people's life safety and health and strengthen risk governance at the root, the commission decided to improve laws on wildlife protection and increase supervision on law enforcement to fight the illegal trade of wild animals and to eliminate overhunting and indiscriminate consumption of them, according to him.
He said the current Law on Wild Animal Protection, revised in 2016, has played a role in the protection by clarifying conservation priorities, regulated uses and strict management of the wildlife, but it still has some problems.
"Relevant rules to support the law have not been offered in a timely manner, while specific methods, directions, standards and technical regulations to protect wildlife have also yet to be introduced," he said.
It's probably a respond to the joint signature initiative of 19 Chinese scholars on Jan 24, who appealed for the eradication of illegal trade and eating of wild animals. One of them is Peking University's professor Lyu Zhi, who wrote detailed suggestion for management of the utilization of wildlife.
Two days later, the government authorities announced that China bans all trading of wild animals at markets, restaurants and e-commerce platforms until the end of the epidemic.
"Compared with the time of the outbreak of SARS in 2003, the Chinese public has a stronger awareness of wildlife protection and the government pays more attention to it,"Lyu said.
"To fight the illegal trade of wildlife and end the indiscriminate consumption of them, the best way is a strict enforcement with legislation. As time passes by, people may forget the profound lesson and illegal activities may make a comeback again,"she said.
According to her, the consumption of wildlife is not necessary at all, and many are luxury consumption. Some believe in food therapies that claim eating wild animals is good for health, and some want to flaunt their wealth or positions.
"It's essential to balance the relationship between human beings and wild animal. It's necessary to promote related knowledge to the public to end indiscriminately consumption of them.The basic thing one can do is not eating wild animals, and it's also good for everyone's health," she said.
"The outbreak of the novel coronavirus is closely related to wildlife. The epidemic situation has become a great challenge for China's social and economic development and international fame," saidZhang Li, professor of conservation biology at Beijing Normal University.
Zhang said to get to the root of the problem, legislation is most important, and took ivory trade as an example.
According to him, a survey showed that the major factors impacted one's consumption of ivory trade were the call of government and laws, guilt and celebrity effect.
China banned all domestic ivory trade at the end of 2017 and he attributed its success largely to legislation.
"When I heard the news, I couldn't help shedding tears. It's a thing that I've been dedicated for over 10 years," he said.
"As different government departments are involved in tackling illegal wildlife trade, they should work closely with each other with a better management connection, to enforce the law strictly," he said.
According to him, China has done very well in its protection of biodiversity and endangered species in recent years, for example, with an extensive area of nature reserves.
Wild animals refer to those that have not been domesticated or tamed and are usually living in a natural environment. But the situation of manual breeding wildlife is a bit different.
Xinhua News Agency recently reported that over 1 million people works in the industry of manual breeding of wild animals, with an annual output of about 50 billion yuan ($ 7.17 billion). The aims are for food, fur, medicine and scientific research.
Lyu suggests the government have a general survey into the legally breeding centers and farms of wildlife for proper management and temporarily suspend issuing new permits of wildlife training and breeding. They should identify those with a permit that hunt wild animals to pretend as manual breeds, and rescind their qualifications.
She says with a mature manual breeding technology, the wildlife's second filial generation or above can be allowed to enter the market, similar to domestic animals.
"It's because that in some less developed areas of China, manual breeding of wildlife and its trade is an essential livelihood for farmers and small companies. The government should help them switch to other professions as soon as possible," she said.
She believes that, however, as consumers' awareness changes, the market for wild animals and its manual breeds will become smaller and smaller.
Zhang recalled that the utilization of wild animals can be dated back to the early days, when some regions make a profit out of the industry. But nowadays, he believed due to China's fast economy development, people don't need to train and breed wildlife as a major way of income anymore.
He said the permit of wild animal training and breeding should be managed strictly. For species that grow slowly like snake and turtles, some people would hunt for the wild ones and trade them as manually breeds.
"It's important to regulate a name list of which wild animals are allowed to be manual breeding. For some species with mature experience and large scale of manual breeding, like spotted deer in Northeast China,it should be discussed whether they're wild animals or not," he said.
He said eating wild animals also exists in some other countries, an the incident itself makes us to reflect over indiscriminate consumption of them and.In some foreign countries, there are problems like international trade of wild animals, bush hunting and exotic pets.
"Hunting will decrease the number of certain wildlife and causes unbalance of ecosystem.My student's study found that when African parrots are sold to Australia as pets, they bring a virus to the local parrots."
According to him, Asian elephants are forced to have more encounter with human beings and thus may hurt or even kill people. It's because the human activities over the past 50 years like planting and land cultivation have decrease the area of their habitat.
"The core is about a harmonious and healthy ecosystem."
To track the source
"Most wild animals have carried virus and germs for many generations. Why the epidemic situation happens at this place at this time? When it ends, it should be investigated that the epidemic was not caused by a single factor," said Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia Executive Director Kang Ai'li.
According to her, many wild animals won't have intimate contact with each other in nature. They don't like to contact with human beings, or voluntarily enter an intensive human settlement area. However, the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan offers a unique environment for the new virus.
She said as online photos show that, different species of wildlife were crowded in a narrow and wet space in the market, without ventilation. For illegal wildlife trade, sellers would avoid quarantine and wouldn't warn buyers about hygienic risks.
Kang said China has made some important breakthroughs in wild animal protection over the past years, and experts often communicate with their counterparts from other countries as well.
According to her, in the topic of wild animal protection, China can learn from the successful experience of Western countries in ways such as calling for more involvement of non-governmental forces, including offering advice and supervision.
She said the major focus of China's veterinary industry is on domestic animals and zoo animals, and only a few vets are specialized in disease research of wild animals. It's essential to increase the number of domestic vets who treat wild animals and improve the capability of the industry.
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