South Asian Insider
Covid-19 and China’s wildlife trade are linked more closely than you think
The coronavirus disease has proven to be a huge disaster for the developed economies, which had the best medical facilities, as well as the underdeveloped economies. Nowadays, terms such as lockdown, social distancing, isolation centers, self-quarantine, vaccine, immunity and ventilators are dominating the media and discussions across the globe. And the reason is Covid-19. A deadly disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or Sars-CoV-2. It spreads when a healthy individual comes in contact with the droplets produced by an infected person when he exhales, sneezes or coughs. The disease has proven to be a huge disaster for the developed economies, which had the best medical facilities, as well as the underdeveloped economies. And governments of different countries and global health organisations are racing against time trying to develop a vaccine to stop it. With a ban on travel through air, rail and road, the world has literally come to a standstill. The loss of jobs, the fall in prices of oil and disruption in the supply chains of commodities have been some of the unprecedented fallouts of this fatal disease on the global economy. We have the USA closing its borders and putting a hold on immigration for 60 days to protect its interests and for the well-being of its citizens. One can expect others to follow suit. Everywhere, the economists and policymakers are trying to understand and estimate the aftermath of this lockdown and how the world will recoup from it. However, the entire focus has been more on the economic implications of the situation. And yes, the world is discussing its spread and origin from China, but barring a few international organisations working for animal welfare, nobody is focusing on the real cause. The origin and cause of Covid-19, which will help in its containment and eradication. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated that 70 percent of new viruses originate in animals. It has been confirmed that in the past different types of diseases such as AIDS, SARS, Ebola and MERS have originated in wild animals. Scientists have tentatively concluded that the Covid-19 originated in bats and entered humans from a secondary host animal, most probably pangolins. It is also claimed that Huanan seafood market in Wuhan is the origin for this virus. Unfortunately, seafood markets (in China) have more than just seafood. They have wild animals such as primates, crocodiles, wolf pups, civets, snakes, turtles, bamboo rats, porcupines, live fish and mongoose, packed together in cages. They are live specimens, most of them illegally smuggled from their wild habitats, and butchered on demand by the sellers. To keep the remaining meat fresh, it is kept on ice slabs from where blood spreads, as the ice slabs melt, into the small walkways of the market. And this is the reason why these markets are called the wet markets. Scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have already declared these wet markets as “Time Bomb” for future diseases. Many viruses are confined to a small population of wild animals and remain in wild habitats for a long time. Such viruses are of zoonotic nature and remain dormant till the animal host comes in contact with a human host. And most of these viruses remain inactive and undiscovered. Once these wild animals enter, through illegal wildlife trade, the wet markets or are consumed as bushmeat by humans, these viruses being zoonotic in nature multiply in their human hosts. And create a disease that can either be endemic in a community or result in a pandemic. So if we are not able to contain illegal trade of wildlife, it is certain that we are going to face more pandemics in the near future. Thus illegal wildlife trade is the main reason for a pandemic such as Covid-19. Chinese wet markets are very popular and have a collection of illegally-traded wildlife from all over world. I visited these wet markets in three big cities in China in the mid 1990s. And a person who is not culturally tuned to such wet markets will leave them immediately. The latest addition in these markets is a section for live insects. Many international organisations working for prevention of illegal wildlife trade viz. IUCN, CITES and TRAFFIC are trying to contain illegal wild trade to stop extinction of many species in their habitat. Unfortunately, Chinese and similar wet markets in Southeast Asia are a big challenge for them. Another cause of concern is domestic farming of many wild animals in China for traditional medicines and meat. The production of traditional Chinese medicines has resulted in illegal trade and poaching of many wild animals in India. The tiger, the leopard, musk pods from musk deer, and bear bile are some of the products used in the traditional Chinese medicines. Recently, a few cases have been reported from the USA where the skin of a dead wild animal used for making drums caused a disease in humans. Now it is certain that wild animals can cause unknown diseases to humans even through contact with the body parts of the dead animal.
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