'Animals live for man': China's appetite for wildlife likely to survive virus


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HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) - 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.

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.

Scientists suspect, but have not proven, that the new coronavirus passed to humans from bats via pangolins, a small ant-eating mammal whose scales are highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine.

Some of the earliest infections were found in people who had exposure to Wuhan's seafood market, where bats, snakes, civets and other wildlife were sold. China temporarily shut down all such markets in January, warning that eating wild animals posed a threat to public health and safety.

That may not be enough to change tastes or attitudes that are deeply rooted in the country's culture and history.

"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, which has killed more than 1,600 people in China, revived a debate in the country about the use of wildlife for food and medicine. It previously came to prominence in 2003 during the spread of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which scientists believe was passed to humans from bats, via civets.

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 breeding and trading of wild animals in China is supported by the government and is a source of profit for many people.

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.

These officially sanctioned wildlife farming operations produce about $20 billion in annual revenue, according to a 2016 government-backed report.

"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.

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."

The NFGA did not respond to requests for comment.


Animal products, from bear bile to pangolin scales, are still used in some traditional Chinese medicine, an industry China wants to expand as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

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.

China's top legislature will toughen laws on wildlife trafficking this year, the official Xinhua news agency reported this week.

"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."


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I have a friend who is an RN and grew up in a village in Cameroon, Africa and she told me that as a child she remembered some of her relatives eating gorilla meat when they couldn't find any other meat to eat. She was lucky because her dad was a doctor and they were considered well-off in the community, but she said others were so poor and didn't have money to buy food even if they could get to the city, which was far away, so they had to rely on whatever they could get in the wild. Wuhan, however, isn't like my friend's village, they have access to traditional food, but seem to eat all this weird meat because it's considered rare and exotic ~ and it can also make them very ill and kill them.

Tall Timbers

Imperfect but forgiven
I don't see anything ruthless, sickening or disgusting about our appetites. I can easily understand that in a land of over a billion people under a ruthless communist government that often makes an already difficult life more difficult, the consumption practices of a people under such conditions would develop in such a way that as a people they would learn to turn just about anything into food.

The problems arising aren't from what the peoples are consuming so much as the marketing practices that put many different species in close proximity to one another, creating the potential for viruses that affect one species to more easily jump to other specie(s).

I find the cullinary differences among the many cultures of the world to be incredibly interesting and like to try different things when traveling. I'm only willing to try things that appear tasty to me though. When I'm dining at my sister-in-law's table, who is Chinese, I've learned to just say no if there is something on the table that doesn't look like something I would want to try...

I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around grocery stores when I used to travel all over the globe and seeing the differences in what was on the shelves and in the "meat" departments. I love to visit grocery stores in the USA that serve specific ethnicities.

We shouldn't judge the consumption habits of others, especially if we don't believe others should judge us for our own consumption choices.

Rocky R.

Well-Known Member
Animals were created for mankind. God commanded us to have dominion over the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, the fish in the sea, and everything that moves on the planet. Therefore, animals are for service, sacrifice, or sustenance. My dog is crying now....

Umbrella Girl

Now we see through a glass, darkly; (1 Cor 13:12)
Yes, I DO judge cultures which think nothing of packing dogs into crates to be sold as meat. These poor dogs are caged tightly in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. And there are dog meat festivals, where dogs are paraded around in cages, and then taken to be slaughtered and cooked by festival participants. They have a lust for freshly slaughtered “warm meat.” They eat dog meat for reasons of superstition or “tonic.” Not because they are starving to death and have any “need” to eat it. It is REPULSIVE and CRUEL. And it takes place in China, as well as other Asian countries.

Look it up online and you will see plenty of stomach-churning, heart-breaking photos of these poor dogs suffering horrifically in tight crates, just waiting to die and be eaten by human beings without an ounce of pity or compassion in their souls.

And not for one second do I believe our God is OK with it. I believe it grieves His heart, as well, as He is a loving and compassion God, and these creatures are part of His creation. Although He did not create animals in His own image, as He created humans, they still deserve to be treated with compassion. But the sad fact is, many people around this world have very little compassion for other human being, if at all, let alone compassion for animals. SIN is what brought the killing and eating of animals into this world. The Word of God clearly shows that it was not part of His original plan for His creation. And I YEARN for the day when God makes ALL suffering...both human and animal...things of the past, never to be experienced again...
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Umbrella Girl

Now we see through a glass, darkly; (1 Cor 13:12)
I’ve done some reading about the diets of people who lived in the Middle East during Jesus’ time on earth. And yes, as we all know, they did eat meat. The Bible speaks about eating fish, lamb, and the “fattened calf.” Jesus was not a vegetarian.

However, the average peasant did not eat meat on a regular basis because they could not afford to. Generally speaking, unless you were wealthy, meat was reserved for special occasions, such as feast days, weddings, etc.

People survived...and thrived...on a diet mostly consisting of lentils, grains, bread, vegetables, fruits, cheese, olives, and honey. And they lived in a harsh desert environment where their “farming” ability was quite limited. Obviously, I’m no expert on the subject, but that is my basic understanding of it.

My point is, in many but not all cases, people don’t need to eat meat in order to survive.
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I Shall Not Be Moved
I don't think we can judge folks for eating meat.... If Our Dear Savior says it's ok, then that's the final word.

Also, having parents that grew up in the depression, I was taught to never say what I would or would not eat. I have taken that to heart and taught it to my grandkids. If I am truly hungry, I may eat any manner of food, including cat, dog or rat.

There are verses in the Bible about people buying....horses heads???...and other unsavory foods... They were starving.

Umbrella Girl

Now we see through a glass, darkly; (1 Cor 13:12)
I don't think we can judge folks for eating meat.... If Our Dear Savior says it's ok, then that's the final word.

Also, having parents that grew up in the depression, I was taught to never say what I would or would not eat. I have taken that to heart and taught it to my grandkids. If I am truly hungry, I may eat any manner of food, including cat, dog or rat.

There are verses in the Bible about people buying....horses heads???...and other unsavory foods... They were starving.

My issue is really more about cruelty to animals simply for the sake of satisfying an exotic lust for a certain type of meat, as what takes places in China and certain other parts of Asia. Not about eating meat simply to survive if there’s nothing else.

But honestly, if I had to eat dog, cat, or rat meat in order to live, it would be absolutely unthinkable and impossible for me to do so. I would be going home to Jesus even sooner! I know others feel differently about that, but that is how I personally feel for myself.