Wuhan bans eating wild animals as coronavirus drives a crackdown in China

The city of Wuhan, believed to be the origin of the novel coronavirus, has banned the eating of wild animals. In exchange for ending the breeding of exotic animals, Chinese farmers are being offered cash by the government. This ruling comes after mounting demand for China to restrict illegal wildlife trade – an activity deemed by many as the root of COVID-19. As of this writing, the virus has infected 4.9 million people and has killed 323,000 worldwide.

Wuhan sits in China’s central Hubei province and is home to about 11 million citizens. It’s where the cases of the virus were first recorded late last year. On Wednesday, its local administration announced that the consumption of all wild animals has been officially prohibited. Aside from eating them, the city also outlawed the hunting of wild animals within its limits as it declared Wuhan as “a wildlife sanctuary”. Exempted from this mandate is government ordered hunting for “scientific research, population regulation, monitoring of epidemic diseases and other special circumstances.”

There were also strict new controls set on the breeding of all wild animals. Officials made it clear that none could be reared as food. The local administration is also set to participate in a more extensive national plan to buy out wild animal breeders.

According to animal rights activists, this national scheme is the first time Chinese authorities have promised to buy out breeders in an effort to stop animal breeding.

Citing the risk of diseases spreading to humans, China had already prohibited the trade of wild animals for food as COVID-19 affected millions around the globe. However, the practice remains legal for other purposes such as research and traditional medicine.

Before it turned into a pandemic, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is believed to have passed from bats to humans. The transmission happened possibly via another species.

Two major wildlife breeding provinces in China have already laid out the details of their buyout plan. It involves helping breeders switch to alternative livelihoods.

On Friday, Hunan outlined a compensation program to encourage farmers to raise other livestock or try producing tea and herbal medicines. Authorities will offer a one-off payment of 120 yuan ($16) for every kilogram of rat snake, king rat snake, and cobra. One kilogram of bamboo rat will be valued at 75 yuan. A civet bat – the animal believed to be the culprit for the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) nearly 20 years ago – would fetch 600 yuan.

Jiangxi province has also shared plans to help breeders dispose of animals and provide them with financial aid. A report from Jiangxi Daily newspaper last week revealed that there are 2,300 licensed breeders in the province. Mostly, they’re rearing wild animals for food. Their stock amounts to about 1.6 billion yuan ($225 million).

Beijing has implemented a similar measure after the SARS outbreak. However, it massively failed. Nevertheless, Chinese authorities are now moving in the right direction with this new mandate.

Hopefully, this is the start of a fresh leaf for China and the rest of the world. As history has shown, the consumption of wild animals has led to the emergence of new diseases. This mandate by the government is one powerful way of halting the development of another deadly virus. As they say, prevention is better than cure.