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Civet cats, anteater-like pangolins, bobcats, badgers, baby deer, squirrels, frogs, geese, bats, flying foxes, herons, cranes, sparrows, black beetles, turtles, pigeons, starfish, scorpions, caribou, monkeys, foxes, and raccoon dogs are all widely eaten in China. One common joke goes that the best job in China is a zookeeper. "The illegal wildlife trade in general has become a multi-billion dollar business in China," Jill Robertson, CEO of Hong Kong-based charity Animals Asia, told AFP. [Source: AFP, July 7, 2014]

An often-repeated joke is that if Adam and Eve were Chinese, they would have eaten the snake instead of the apple. The sale of wild animals in the Guangzhou area alone is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year. In Shanghai there is restaurants that sells nothing but snake dishes and others that sells only wildlife dishes. A restaurant in Beijing called Getting Stronger from the Pot serves 20 different types of animal sex organs. Food made from wild animals have been a fixture of Chinese cooking for a long time. A list of delicious food from China in 1500 B.C. included "orangutan lips, the tails of young swallows...and the choice parts of yak and elephant..."

"When Chinese see a cute little rabbit," Paul Theroux wrote, "they want to eat it. The rarer a bird is the more delectable it is. And nothing is wasted. When a duck is slaughtered its blood is saved in a small bowl and later congealed and cubed for vegetable dishes. It is no wonder that there aren't many wild animals in China." The Chinese writer Ha Jin thought America had to be a rich country because, "There were so many squirrels, and no one was trying to eat them." Hunters trap hedgehogs and wild boar in the hills. Foreign hikers sometimes get trapped in wire snares aimed at animals. Even common animals like frogs and sparrows have disappeared as hunters have caught them for food. Sparrows are often more common in the cities than in the countryside, where they have been hunted out of existence.

Alex Shoumatoff wrote in Vanity Fair, ““In Guangzhou there’s a special cat market. You pick the cat you want to eat, then they kill it and sell you the meat. There’s a saying that the southern Chinese will eat anything anything with wings except a plane. I’ve been hearing that this is also now a problem with the Chinese in Africa — and not only those from the South — who are eating domestic dogs and cats, baboons, painted dogs, and leopard tortoises and making soup from the marrow of lower leg bones of giraffes and from lion bones. [Source: Alex Shoumatoff, Vanity Fair, August 2011]

Websites and Sources: Unusual Food photos travel-images.com Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Good Academic site on regional cuisines kas.ku.edu ; China.org Food Guide china.org ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com Wikipedia article on History of Chinese Food Wikipedia ; Books: “Beyond the Great Wall; Recipes and Travels in the other China” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (Artisan, 2008) features travel stories, political analysis and recipes from Tibet, Xinjiang, Guizhou, Inner Mongolia and other places off the beaten track in China.

Wild Animal Food Trade in China

Many people eat wild animals because of their purported health benefits. Eating brains is supposed to make one smarter. Eating foxes and pangolins is supposed to improve one’s muscle tone. Eating hawks and owls, which sell for about $5 in markets, are said to improve one's eyesight. Consuming deer penis or seal penis is supposed to increase one’s potency. There of stories of chimpanzee blood being consumed to cure impotence. Some people say they prefer wild animals because they know they are fresh and not treated with chemicals.

Since the 1990s, as incomes have risen, consumption rates of wild animals has risen dramatically in China. According to Chinese law, wild animals are not supposed to be sold for food. They must be bred in farms for more than two generations and then subjected to strict regulations before restaurant can obtain a licence to sell them.

Officially sanctioned wildlife farming operations in China produce about $20 billion in annual revenue, according to a 2016 government-backed report. If anything Chinese laws have helped rather than hindered the trade. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which scientists believe was passed to humans from bats, via civets, killed 774 people in 2003, mostly in China and Southeast Asia. After the SARS outbreak, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) strengthened oversight of the wildlife business, licensing the legal farming and sale of 54 wild animals including civets, turtles and crocodiles, and approved breeding of endangered species including bears, tigers and pangolins for environmental or conservation purposes. “However, activists pushing for a ban describe the licensed farms as a cover for illegal wildlife trafficking, where animals are specifically bred to be consumed as food or medicine rather than released into the wild. "They just use this premise to do illegal trading, " Zhou Jinfeng, head of China’s Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, told Reuters, . "There are no real pangolin farms in China, they just use the permits to do illegal things." [Source: By Farah Master and Sophie Yu, Reuters, February 17, 2020]

Wet Markets in China

Despite the rise of supermarkets since the 1990s, traditional markets where fresh meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, and other perishable goods are sold, known as “wet markets, ” have remained the most prevalent food outlet in urban China. Products sold in these markets are considered to be fresher and less expensive than in many supermarkets. According to a domestic industry report released in 2019, about 73 percent of the fresh produce purchased by Chinese households came from traditional wet markets, 22 percent from supermarkets, and only about 3 percent from online grocery stores. In these wet markets, unpackaged meat and live fish and poultry are common, while pigs, lambs, and cows are butchered in special slaughtering factories rather than on site. Many wet markets may be deemed unsanitary, especially in smaller communities, while there are well-managed and hygienic wet markets in and near bigger cities. [Source: Laney Zhang, Foreign Law Specialist, Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, August 2020 |*|]|

Although it is rare for Chinese wet markets to sell exotic animals, the practice has continued in poorly regulated sites, such as the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. There has long been a wildlife-eating culture in certain areas of China. Over the past three decades, consuming exotic foods has become a symbol of social status. In addition, in some of China’s impoverished regions, wildlife farming is an important source of income for people. Furthermore, traditional Chinese medicine has for centuries used various types of wildlife to treat human ailments. Scales of pangolins, for example, are used to treat conditions such as blocked breast ducts, rheumatoid arthritis, and poor blood circulation, despite no scientific evidence of effectiveness. As of 2016, China reportedly had a wildlife breeding industry that was worth an estimated 520 billion yuan (about US$74 billion) and employed more than 14 million people. These animals are used in various sectors, among them fur farming, which has the highest value, followed by food, medicine, tourism/pets, and laboratory research. |*|

Wet markets are largely regulated by local governments. However, in 2003, the central government’s Ministry of Health issued a regulation on food hygiene at marketplaces, which specifies sanitary requirements for wet markets and subjects wet markets to sanitary inspections by the government health authority. Under the Regulation, areas of wet markets dealing with livestock, poultry, and aquatic products must be separated from other areas by a distance of not less than five meters. Market operators must inspect the quarantine certificates of meat products entering the market on a daily basis. In addition, under China’s Animal Epidemic Prevention Law, wet markets trading in animals must meet the conditions for animal epidemic prevention laid down by the authorities, and are subject to the supervision and inspection by the government animal health supervision agencies. |*|

Hu Fayun wrote: "Early last winter, my wife returned from the wet market and reported seeing a peddler selling two tiny monkeys; they were caged in a wire rattrap, curled up pitifully into little balls and huddled together to escape the cold. Each time my wife returned from the wet market she brought back a few of these heartrending stories: about a wounded muntjac deer with melancholy eyes; about a few small hedgehogs fighting fruitlessly to break free from a nylon net bag; about a row of brilliantly plumaged golden pheasant corpses; about a small squirrel struggling in the scorching sun for its final dying breath; about a clowder of cats crushed together and yowling piteously in chorus. There were also small squawking quail bouncing frenziedly in a basket, bare and bloody from being plucked featherless while alive. There were frogs, tortoises, soft-shelled turtles, and snakes—all of which, as recipes prescribe, had been skinned alive. There were also those docile and adorable pigeons, rabbits, and lambs. For these small creatures, every wet market is their Auschwitz concentration camp." [Source: "Old Fool: Elegy for a Monkey" by Hu Fayun, MCLC Resource Center, translated by Paul E. Festa, August 2017]

Aphrodisiacs from Animals

Fertilized duck eggs are consumed as an aphrodisiac by Filipinos, Chinese and Vietnamese. Chinese men also consume bull and deer penises soaked in herbal wine, sea-cucumber, bull's pizzles cooked with Chinese yam, and snake bile to boost their sex life. Bird nest soup is supposed to prolong erections.

Indian tribes in the U.S. Pacific Northwest have made fortunes selling geoduck, a giant burrowing clams, to markets in Hong Kong and southern China. The clams can weigh as much as 16 pounds and have a penis-like neck that can extend for three feet. Wealthy diners will pay up to $100 in Hong Kong or Shanghai for a dish made with geoduck meat.

Many aphrodisiacs either incorporate the penises of animals or are shaped like penises. Dog penises from Thailand are sent to China and Taiwan, where they are consumed as energy boosters. Deer penis and testicles sold together in an ornate green box lined with red satin will set you back $63.

Wild Animals as Food in Guangdong

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locusts and scorpions

The people of Guangdong province are particularly famous for eating wild animals: rats, pythons, cats, foxes, and a wide assortment of local animals. They often eat them at specialty restaurants that display the animals they serve alive in cages outside the front and kill them after the customer orders them. Those bought in markets are preferably purchased live and butchered in front of the customers.

Southern China has long been the centre of a culinary tradition called "wild flavour", which prizes parts of unusual wild animals including tigers, turtles and snakes as a route to health - despite the lack of orthodox scientific evidence proving such benefits exist. [Source: AFP, July 7, 2014]

In Guangzhou, people say they will eat “anything that moves across the land, sea or sky except trains, boats and planes.” In Guangdong people say they will eat anything that walks, crawls, hops or flies. Affluence has only increased the demand as people who couldn’t afford these foods now can. One man who indulges on wild animal meals two or three times a month told the New York Times, “When you see an animal, it’s only natural to wonder what kind of flavor it has.”

The First Village of Wild Food restaurant in Guangzhou offers flying fox, civet cats, small deer, several species of birds, dark-haired pigs and plump rabbits. Most of the animals are kept down stairs in cages. Customers can pick out the animals they want and eat them upstairs. Butchers who have tables near the cages quickly kill and skin the animals which are then prepared by cooks in the kitchen

The Sent Down Youth No. 1 Village Wild Flavor Restaurant in Lianbian outside Guangzhou offers herons, snakes, baby deers, flying foxes, and dozens of other species in a dining area decorated with kitschy Mao era posters. Their specialty is “Dragon, Tiger, Phoenix," a stew made with snake, wild cat and crane.

Endangered Animals as Food in China

Among the rare and unusual wild animals sold at markets are several species of monkey (their brains are supposedly a great delicacy), braised wildcat, armadillos, anteaters, bear claws, mantjac (a small deer that the Chinese call a fruit-eating rabbit), pangolin, giant salamanders, and expensive breed of dogs. A good meal of rare foods costs the equivalent of four month's salary or two month's rent for a studio apartment in Shanghai.

The people of Guangdong province have a traditionally sought out endangered animals such as golden monkeys, pangolins and cranes. One restaurant in the city of Maoing sells golden monkey meat for about $125 per kilogram, crane meat for about $80 per kilogram, and bear paws for about $175 per kilogram. Chefs at the restaurant boasted they could prepare almost any kind of wild animal as long as they were given enough time in advance to obtain it.

Tian Yangyang, a researcher for Chinese advocacy group Nature University, told AFP that Guangdong eateries do not generally advertise endangered species but offer them to trusted customers on secret menus. In 2013 he sneaked into Guangdong restaurants where he found that eagle and swan were widely available. Some Chinese go to Mong La, Myanmar—“the Las Vegas of the jungle” in a tribe-controlled area of Myanmar — to feast on wild animal dishes such as bear paws, Burmese star tortoises and pangolins. [Source: AFP, July 7, 2014] Consumption of rare animals has risen as the country has become richer, with some people believing spending thousands of yuan on eating them gives a certain social cache. "Eating rare wild animals is not only bad social conduct but also a main reason why illegal hunting has not been stopped despite repeated crackdowns," Lang Sheng, deputy head of parliament's Legislative Affairs Commission said, the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Thursday.[Source: Reuters, April 24, 2014]

Pan Wenshi, a conservationist known for his work with pandas, told the New York Times, “In the 1990s, the Chinese economy started booming, and those with money — governors, factory owners, businessmen — all wanted to eat wildlife to show how powerful they were.

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post, “The dramatic expansion in China’s middle and upper classes has transformed the country into a major driver of global wildlife trafficking. The Obama administration is so concerned about Chinese demand for endangered wildlife that it made the subject an important part of its bilateral dialogue in 2013. Lavish spending by China’s wealthy has also sent demand for ivory skyrocketing, fueling a massive expansion in elephant poaching in Africa. The consequences of the traffic go beyond a crisis for wildlife. The illegal ivory trade has financed global crime networks and local insurgents, including Somalia’s al-Shabab — responsible for last month’s attack on a Nairobi shopping mall. “Conservation is more about China now than it is about Africa,” said Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, “China can be the savior of wildlife or it can be the demise of it.”[Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, October 19, 2013]

Bear Meat Banquets and Civets

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Bear paws
Bear meat is valued as sexual-performance and health booster. A bowl of bear claw soup — a prized delicacy at restaurants in China, Hong and Taiwan’sometimes sells for hundreds of dollars. Bear paw is supposed to be especially tender from pawing for salt. South Koreans, Taiwanese and Chinese tourist go to restaurants in Thailand where, one environmentalist told AP, "The bear is tortured to death in front of the diners. They say it makes the meat taste better. the coast of the bear banquet is now about 9,000 U.S. dollars."

In April 2010, China approved the use of bear bile to treat coronavirus patients. The BBC reported: Bear bile — a digestive fluid drained from living captive bears — has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. The active ingredient, ursodeoxycholic acid, is used to dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease. But there is no proof that it is effective against the coronavirus and the process is painful and distressing for the animals Brian Daly, a spokesman for the Animals Asia Foundation, told AFP, : "We shouldn't be relying on wildlife products like bear bile as the solution to combat a deadly virus that appears to have originated from wildlife." [Source: BBC, April 2, 2020]

Around Guangzhou, the meat of civets — nocturnal mammals closely related to mongooses — is eaten in a stew as a winter time delicacy said to be rich in yang, an energy source that helps keep one warm. The meat is also braised, roasted and added to soups. The animals are served at restaurants, sold at markets and raised in breeding farms. Small-time civit breeders earn $200 a month, considerably more than the could earn from farming.

There is circumstantial evidence that SARS originated with civets. The SARS virus and corona viruses found in humans are 99.8 identical to the SARS virus and corona viruses found in Himalayan, or masked, palm civets, racoon dogs and hog badgers sold for food at the market in Shenzhen, China. Researchers also found antibodies to the virus in the blood of 20 wild animal traders and 15 workers who slaughter the animals.

Efforts to End Eating Wild Animals in China

Legislation has been introduced banning the eating of wild animals in Guangdong province and imposing stiff fines on restaurants that serve endangered animals such as golden monkeys, pangolins and cranes. One restaurant owner was sentenced to five years in jail for serving pangolin. Another told the New York Times, “Rare owls and crocodiles used to be popular but you can’t get them anymore because the government has banned them.”

Many wild animals are brought in from Southeast Asia. In 2004, police confiscated 1.2 tons of turtles, pangolins and iguanas in Vietnam that were bound for wild animal restaurants in China.

There is a green movement among professional chefs. Hundreds have signed a manifesto pledging not to cook rare animals. The Economist reported: “There are precedents for the disappearance of classic Chinese dishes on conservation grounds. Bear’s paw, for example, is no longer eaten openly. Instead, you may be offered imitation bear’s paw made from mutton pushed into a paw-shaped mould. Imitation shark’s fin is already available should anybody want it. And when the social cachet of a fabulously expensive delicacy is required, these days a bottle of Château Lafite might do. [Source: The Economist, October 1, 2011]

China Said It Will Jail People for 10 Years for Eating of Protected Animal Species

In April 2014, China said would jail people who eat rare animals for 10 years or more under a new interpretation of the criminal law. Reuters reported: China lists 420 species as rare or endangered, including the panda, golden monkeys, Asian black bears and pangolins, some or all of which are threatened by illegal hunting, environmental destruction and the consumption of animal parts, including for supposedly medicinal reasons. The new interpretation "clears up ambiguities about buyers of prey of illegal hunting", the report added. [Source: Reuters, April 24, 2014]

Knowingly buying any wild animals killed by illegal hunting will now be considered a crime, with a maximum penalty of three years in jail, Xinhua said. "In fact, buyers are a major motivator of large-scale illegal hunting," Lang said. Beijing first enacted laws in 1989 forbidding trade in scores of creatures including the Chinese pangolin, but has long struggled to enforce the ban as a booming economy has boosted demand.

Jill Robertson, CEO of Hong Kong-based charity Animals Asia, described the enhanced penalties as a "positive step" but added that "enforcement must be strengthened, and public education and awareness greatly enhanced". [Source: AFP, July 7, 2014]

Endangered Animals Still for Sale Despite Ban

In April 2014, after China said it would clamp down harder on people that eat rare animals, lax enforcement is the norm is some places in Guangdong Province. "I can sell the meat for 500 yuan ($80) per half kilo," a pangolin vendor at the Xingfu - "happy and rich" - wholesale market in Conghua told AFP. "If you want a living one it will be more than 1,000 yuan." [Source: AFP, July 7, 2014 ||||]

AFP reported: “The market was the subject of a Chinese media expose two years ago, when a local official told the state-run Beijing Technology Times that its role as a centre for animal trafficking was an "open secret". The seller, who declined to be named, said making a living from his creatures was getting tougher. "Now it's governed very strictly," he said. But on a recent morning traders were out in force, with hundreds of snakes writhing in white cloth bags and wild boars staring plaintively from wire cages. Not all the produce is illegal but a huge sign touted giant salamanders, which are classed as critically endangered - one level below "extinct in the wild" - on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of threatened species. Asian yellow pond turtles were up for sale beside porcupines, most likely from Asia where several species are also critically endangered. Meanwhile, state-run media have publicised huge hauls of smuggled animals - with border police in Guangdong province in May shown seizing 956 frozen pangolins, reportedly weighing four tonnes. ||||

But there are signs the threats and increased penalties are having an effect.Last year a chef surnamed Wang told AFP that his restaurant sold pangolin for 2,000 yuan per half kilo, adding: "We usually braise them, cook it in a stew or make soup, but braising in soy sauce tastes best." But when AFP recently contacted around a dozen restaurants specialising in "wild flavour" none admitted to selling the meat. ||||

Tian Yangyang, a researcher for Chinese advocacy group Nature University told AFP, "I am not optimistic the the rules will be enforced, because the legal system in China is still not very robust," he said, adding that the trade in protected animals "is getting worse, because it has been driven underground". ||||

“For other species, trade is unabated, and at a Guangzhou roadside establishment specialising in snake stew, live king cobras in cages were bestsellers. The animals are classified as "vulnerable" on the Red List due to habitat loss and "over-exploitation for medicinal purposes"."Eating this kind of snake is good for the throat and head," said a 17-year-old customer surnamed Wang, as white-hatted chefs decapitated and sliced them up behind a transparent plastic screen. ||||

China’s Wildlife Protection Law

China’s Wildlife Protection Law prohibits the sale, purchase, or use of state-protected wild animals and products made from these animals, but allows the trade and use of “artificially-bred wild animals” if approvals are in place. Wildlife falling outside of the state protection catalog may be legally traded if quarantine certificates and other mandatory licenses and approvals are obtained. [Source: Laney Zhang, Foreign Law Specialist, Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, August 2020 |*|]

The existing Wildlife Protection Law bans food products made from state-protected wild animals, but not those made from other wild animals. A land wildlife protection regulation prohibits the sale or purchase of state-protected wild animals and products at marketplaces, but allows hunting license holders to sell non-state protected wild animals at certain marketplaces designated by local government authorities. |*|

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a fast-track legislative decision was passed on February 24, 2020, banning consumption of any wild land animals as food, including any artificially bred or farmed wild animals. It also bans hunting, trading, or transporting, for the purpose of eating, any land animals that grow and reproduce naturally in the wild. The decision does not ban other uses of wildlife, such as for scientific research, medicine, or exhibition. The Wildlife Protection Law is expected to be revised during 2020. |*|

The primary Chinese legislation on the management and protection of wildlife, the Wildlife Protection Law, was first passed in 1988, substantially revised in 2016, and most recently amended in 2018. In addition to providing wildlife protection, the Law has always permitted the “use” of wildlife as a “resource.” As mentioned above, wildlife may be used for fur farming, medicine, tourism, pets, and laboratory research, in addition to food. As a result, wild animals protected by the Law are limited to (1) rare and endangered wild land and aquatic animals; and (2) wild land animals of important ecological, scientific, and social value (“three-value animals”). |*|

Under the Law, the central government authority maintains a state-protected wild animal catalog, which groups rare and endangered wildlife species into two classes and provides different levels of protection. The pangolin, for example, is a Class II state-protected animal, while the panda is in Class I. |*|

Regulations in China’s Wildlife Protection Law

Commercial Use of Wildlife: The Wildlife Protection Law prohibits the sale, purchase, or use of state-protected wild animals and products made from these animals, but provincial-level wildlife authorities may otherwise permit such activities for certain purposes, such as scientific research and artificial breeding. Furthermore, the Law establishes a licensing system for the artificial breeding of state-protected wild animals. The central government releases another catalog of such “artificially-bred wild animals” that are allowed to be traded and used if approvals are in place. [Source: Laney Zhang, Foreign Law Specialist, Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, August 2020 |*|]|

Wildlife falling outside of the state protection catalog may be legally traded if quarantine certificates and other required licenses and approvals are in place. First, the Wildlife Protection Law expressly allows the commercial use of non-state protected wild animals, as long as quarantine certificates and proof of legal sources of the wild animals concerned are presented, such as hunting permits or import and export certificates. According to the Land Wildlife Protection Regulation, which was issued in 1992 and most recently revised in 2016, the commercial use of these animals must be registered with the government market authority. |*|

Second, the commercial use of certain wild animals falling outside of the state protection catalog may be subject to local wildlife protection regulations requiring local approvals and may also be subject to quotas limiting the number of animals that may be traded. Many local governments also encourage artificial breeding of non-state protected wild animals but require a local artificial breeding license.[1

Food Products: The Wildlife Protection Law specifically prohibits producing or selling food products made from state-protected wild animals, or from other wild animals without proof of legal sources. In this regard, the Law does not differentiate artificially-bred animals from other wild animals. Therefore, the existing Wildlife Protection Law bans food products made from state-protected wild animals, but not from other wild animals including the “three-value animals.”

Wildlife Sold at Wet Markets: The Land Wildlife Protection Regulation contains an article prohibiting the sale or purchase of state-protected wild animals and products made from these animals at marketplaces. The article also states that hunting license holders may sell non-state protected wild animals and products at certain marketplaces designated by local government authorities. According to the Regulation, wild animals traded at marketplaces are subject to oversight and inspection by the government market authority, while those traded outside of marketplaces are regulated by the government wildlife authority, market authority, or other delegated entities. |*|

Ban of Wildlife Consumption in China

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) passed a fast-track legislative decision on February 24, 2020, the NPCSC Decision on Completely Prohibiting the Illegal Wildlife Trade, Eliminating the Bad Habit of Indiscriminately Eating Wild Animals, and Truly Ensuring the Health and Safety of the People. The NPCSC Decision took effect on the same day. [Source: Laney Zhang, Foreign Law Specialist, Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, August 2020 |*|]|

Significantly, the Decision bans consumption of all wild land animals as food, including the “three-value animals” and artificially bred or farmed wild animals. It also bans hunting, trading, and transporting, for the purpose of eating, any land animals that grow and reproduce naturally in the wild. Punishments for violators will be based on those prescribed in the existing laws. In addition, hunting, trading, transporting, or eating of wild animals that is already prohibited by the Wildlife Protection Law will be subject to harsher punishments than those prescribed by existing laws, according to the Decision. |*|

However, the NPCSC Decision does not ban other uses of wildlife such as for scientific research, medical purposes, or exhibition, but these uses are subject to strict approval processes and quarantine inspections. The Decision also does not prohibit consumption of aquatic wild animals. Any animals included in the catalog of livestock and poultry genetic resources are also not subject to the new ban. |The NPCSC has officially added revisions of the Wildlife Protection Law and the Animal Epidemic Prevention Law to its legislative agenda for 2020. |*|

Enforcement of China’s Wildlife Protection Law

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the central and local governments had tried to regulate wild animal trading at markets, instituting occasional checks to improve sanitation. In reality, however, there are numerous issues with licensing, approvals, quarantine inspection, and law enforcement. The Huanan market, for example, was reportedly inspected by the local market authority in 2019. That inspection identified eight vendors in the market that were legally licensed to trade wild animals, such as tiger frogs, snakes, and hedgehogs. After the outbreak of COVID-19, many illegal operations were revealed at this market, such as vendors lacking proper licenses or official quarantine inspections. Closed on January 1, 2020, the Huanan market appears to have no plan to reopen and its venders have been moved to other seafood markets in Wuhan. [Source: Laney Zhang, Foreign Law Specialist, Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, August 2020 |*|]|

Following the passage of the NPCSC Decision, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration announced on February 26, 2020, that the wildlife authorities at all levels will launch inspections of wildlife breeding sites and commercial use entities and revoke all licenses and approvals for the artificial breeding or commercial use of wild animals for food. On March 2, 2020, the Ministry of Public Security announced that they had investigated 948 criminal cases and 2, 147 administrative cases involving the illegal wildlife trade. Recently, the central government indicated that in addition to cracking down on the illegal trade in and consumption of wild animals, the market authority will restrict live poultry trading and on-site slaughtering at markets. Live poultry trading in China’s wet markets will gradually be banned completely, according to an official with the General Administration of Market Supervision. |*|

It remains to be seen, however, whether the new ban and the revised Wildlife Protection Law will be fully enforced after the current pandemic. After the 2003 outbreak of SARS, the central and local governments reportedly tried to tackle the wildlife trade, banning the sale of some wild animals such as civet cats, but many of the bans either weren’t enforced or were quietly removed after the SARS epidemic subsided. As pointed out by a China expert with the Environmental Investigation Agency, the COVID-19 pandemic “has demonstrated in the starkest of terms how no one country’s biodiversity and wildlife trade policies exist in isolation. The link to wildlife trade in China, whether legal or illegal, shows the urgent need for stronger laws and enforcement to close markets for wild animal products.”

Crackdown on the Wildlife Trade After the Coronavirus Outbreak

In February 2020, after the coronavirus had taken hold in China,Farah Master and Sophie Yu of Reuters wrote: “For the past two weeks China's police have been raiding houses, restaurants and makeshift markets across the country, arresting nearly 700 people for breaking the temporary ban on catching, selling or eating wild animals. The scale of the crackdown, which has netted almost 40,000 animals including squirrels, weasels and boars, suggests that China's taste for eating wildlife and using animal parts for medicinal purposes is not likely to disappear overnight, despite potential links to the new coronavirus.[Source: By Farah Master and Sophie Yu, Reuters, February 17, 2020]

In January 2020, just as outbreak started, AFP reported: “The food market” where the coronavirus is first believed to have started “was a smorgasbord of exotic wildlife ranging from wolf pups to species linked to previous pandemics such as civets, according to vendor information and a Chinese media report. “The Huanan Seafood Market in the central city of Wuhan came under greater scrutiny as Chinese officials said that the virus which has so far killed nine people and infected hundreds may have originated in a wild animal sold at the food emporium. [Source: AFP, January 22, 2020]

“A price list circulating on China's internet for a business at the Wuhan market lists a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies, giant salamanders, snakes, rats, peacocks, porcupines, camel meat and other game — 112 items in all. "Freshly slaughtered, frozen and delivered to your door, " said the price list for the vendor, "Wild Game Animal Husbandry for the Masses". AFP, was unable to directly confirm the authenticity of the price list. Phone calls to the vendor went unanswered, and attempts to connect to its social media accounts were rejected. The Beijing News published a photo showing the same vendor's now-shuttered store front, as authorities in white hazmat suits milled about. The paper also quoted other merchants as saying trade in wildlife took place up until the market was shuttered for disinfection shortly after the outbreak.

“China bans the trafficking of a number of wild species or requires special licenses, but regulations are loose for some species if they are commercially farmed. Following SARS, China cracked down on consumption of civets and some other species, but conservationists say the trade continues.SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which scientists believe was passed to humans from bats, via civets, killed 774 people in 2003, mostly in China and Southeast Asia.

“Animals Live for Man”: A Common Viewpoint in China

Farah Master and Sophie Yu of Reuters wrote: “Traders legally selling donkey, dog, deer, crocodile and other meat told Reuters, they plan to get back to business as soon as the markets reopen. "I'd like to sell once the ban is lifted, " said Gong Jian, who runs a wildlife store online and operates shops in China’s autonomous Inner Mongolia region. "People like buying wildlife. They buy for themselves to eat or give as presents because it is very presentable and gives you face." Gong said he was storing crocodile and deer meat in large freezers but would have to kill all the quails he had been breeding as supermarkets were no longer buying his eggs and they cannot be eaten after freezing. [Source: By Farah Master and Sophie Yu, Reuters, February 17, 2020]

“"In many people's eyes, animals are living for man, not sharing the earth with man, ” said Wang Song, a retired researcher of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The outbreak of the new coronavirus revived a debate in the country about the use of wildlife for food and medicine. “Many academics, environmentalists and residents in China have joined international conservation groups in calling for a permanent ban on trade in wildlife and closure of the markets where wild animals are sold.

“Online debate within China, likely swayed by younger people, has heavily favored a permanent ban. "One bad habit is that we dare to eat anything, " said one commenter called Sun on a news discussion forum on Chinese website Sina. "We must stop eating wildlife and those who do should be sentenced to jail." Nevertheless, a minority of Chinese still like to eat wild animals in the belief it is healthy, providing the demand that sustains wildlife markets like that in Wuhan and a thriving online sales business, much of which is illegal. “One online commenter calling themselves Onlooker Pharaoh said on Chinese news platform Hupu that the risk was worth it: "Giving up wildlife to eat as food is like giving up eating because you might choke."

“"The state forestry bureau has long been the main force supporting wildlife use, " said Peter Li, a China Policy Specialist for the Humane Society International. "It insists on China's right to use wildlife resources for development purposes." Much of the farming and sale of wildlife takes place in rural or poorer regions under the blessing of local authorities who see trading as a boost for the local economy. State-backed television programs regularly show people farming animals, including rats, for commercial sale and their own consumption.

Animal products, from bear bile to pangolin scales, are still used in some traditional Chinese medicine, an industry China wants to expand. “But the distinction between legal and illegal is blurred. The United Nations estimates the global illegal wildlife trade is worth about $23 billion a year. China is by far the largest market, environmental groups say. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an independent organization based in London which campaigns against what it sees as environmental abuses, said in a report this week the coronavirus outbreak has in fact boosted some illegal wildlife trafficking as traders in China and Laos are selling rhinoceros horn medicines as a treatment to reduce fever.

“"We are in a sun-setting business, " said Xiang Chengchuan, a wholesale wildlife store owner in the landlocked eastern Anhui province. "Few people eat dogs now, but it was popular 20 years ago. Xiang, who sells gift boxes of deer antlers and dog, donkey and peacock meat to wealthy bank clients and others, said he had frozen his meat as he waits to see if the ban will continue. “"I will resume selling once the policy allows us, but now I have no idea how long it (the ban) will last."

Image Sources: Weird Meat blog except Bear paws, Wild Alliance, pangolin by Kostich, bird nest from Wiki Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2021

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