China’s return to wildlife farming ‘a risk to global health and biodiversity’ | Environment

China appears to be easing post-corona restrictions on keeping wildlife such as porcupines, civets and bamboo rats, warning NGOs and experts it poses new risks to public health and biodiversity. ing.

Before the pandemic, wildlife farming was promoted by government agencies as an easy way for China’s rural people to get rich. But after public health experts suggested the virus may have originated in its supply chain, China completely banned hunting, trading, transporting, and consuming wildlife as food.

Before COVID-19 restrictions, about 14 million people worked in wildlife farming.

The ban covers approximately 1,800 animals with important ecological, economic and social values ​​known as the “three values”. This includes hedgehogs, raccoon dogs, civet cats, wild boars, porcupines and bamboo rats. However, according to experts, consuming wildlife as food is in a gray area, and officials acknowledge that current regulations are not clear enough.

Shortly after the ban, wildlife breeding centers across China were ordered to close, cutting off a major source of income for millions of farmers. Still, farmers can keep a few exempt animals on the prohibited list, such as silver foxes and raccoon dogs, in captivity if they obtain government-approved licenses.

Although the regulations prohibit eating species from illegal sources and protected species, they do not allow “eating animals with three values ​​or other terrestrial wildlife that are not under protection for certain species.” It doesn’t say whether it’s legal or not. It creates a loophole,” said Yang Heqing, an official at the National People’s Congress.

Recent updates to the Wildlife Conservation Act have eased restrictions on wildlife farming, NGOs and experts say. “According to Draft 2, aquaculture of wildlife with three values ​​does not need to be approved. It just needs to be registered. ‘, said an official statement from the Shan Shui Conservation Center, a Chinese NGO dedicated to the protection of species and ecosystems.

“We are concerned that such changes will weaken the monitoring and protection of tri-value animals and affect wild populations,” the statement added.

A fox cub kept for fur on a farm in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

The more recent update also removed the phrase “preventing public health risks,” weakening the link between wildlife conservation and public health protection, the NGO said.

“The best way to truly protect public health is to keep wildlife where they are supposed to be: in their natural habitat,” said the Chinese wildlife conservation volunteer group Anti-Poaching Crime Squad in a WeChat statement. said. “Cultivating, breeding, buying or selling and attempting to exploit them, especially by eating them, only increases public health risks.

The category exempt from captive breeding includes 16 animals, including several chickens, ducks, deer, silver foxes, raccoon dogs and minks. However, regulatory changes have been seen as new conditions to revive the now dormant wildlife business.

“Wildlife, especially tri-valued species, are very likely to get public attention. Zhou Jinfeng, executive director of the Conservation and Green Development Foundation, told The Guardian.

“Remember, there have already been three major outbreaks caused by coronaviruses since the beginning of the 21st century: Sars, Mers and Covid. We need to learn lessons and put in place policies that guide industry workers to find alternatives,” he added.

A bamboo rat farmer walking in a cage.
China temporarily banned all wildlife trade and consumption in February 2020. Photo: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Mr. Song Wang, who had a bamboo rat in Hunan Province, suffered a great loss due to the sudden ban on keeping wild animals. Now he is ready to start again. “I still have a few rats. I will start raising more when wild animal farming is allowed again.”

Although he opposes the consumption of wildlife for food and the poaching of endangered species, Lan Jingcheng, a researcher at the School of Forestry at Guizhou University, said, “We are trying to replace animals raised in captivity with animals living in the wild.” It is unscientific to think that it is the same as .

Other experts disagree. Professor Diana Bell, a conservation biologist at the University of East Anglia, said, “Relaxing these regulations would be outrageous.” Many animals have actually been obtained by the washing of animals in the past, so they need to think very carefully about this. will bring.”

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