…to get these markets and the wildlife trade shut down for good, then we are going in circles. Viral circles:
In a bustling meat market on a tourist island in Indonesia on 7 April, a pile of dead bats is laid out for sale on a table next to cuts of fresh pork while a butcher angrily shoos away a customer trying to take pictures of the scene on his iPhone.
Two thousand miles north and two days earlier, cats are crammed into filthy cages in a market in Guangxi province in southwest China where different species are piled haphazardly on top of each other and slaughtered side by side on a concrete floor splattered with dirt, blood and animal parts.
On 26 March, in the southern province of Guangdong neighbouring Hong Kong, a traditional medicine seller offers remedies made with bats and scorpions to treat ailments ranging from shoulder pain and rheumatism to mosquito bites.
…and why it is a key pandemic vector:
This expanding industrial footprint has accelerated the flow of pathogens into new territories around the world. In Central Africa, the growth of bushmeat hunting—linked to a dearth of local fish due to Chinese and EU overfishing—has spread monkeypox, a smallpox-like virus, from rodents to humans. In China, the growing prosperity of the middle class has led to an increased demand for the luxury “yewei” cuisine, which revolves around the consumption of rare, exotic wild animals; live animal (or “wet”) markets, where such wild animals are sold, have grown accordingly. These wet markets facilitated the emergence of SARS-CoV-1 in bats, civet cats, and humans in 2002 and, some speculate, the novel coronavirus in 2019. And in southeast Asia, rising incomes have led to the increased consumption of pork and the growth of pig farms. The expansion of swine farming in Malaysia precipitated the transmission of Nipah virus from bats to pigs and then humans in 1998; similarly, in China, the expansion of swine farming has led to the frequent emergence of highly virulent forms of avian influenza viruses and antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
And more on “wet markets,” and why shutting them down is a complicated question:
Among today’s wet markets, you’ll find some that sell no live animals whatsoever, just slaughtered animals and produce; some that carry common live animals like chickens or fish; and some that sell wildlife like bats and snakes.
While US lawmakers and other public figures talk about wanting to ban wet markets writ large, what they seem to really want to ban is the sale of wild animals — or perhaps any live animals — that sometimes occurs there. (Presumably they would have no problem with the wet markets that carry only slaughtered meat and produce; after all, the US is full of such markets.)
Which is why (can’t refrain), the most comprehensive solution would be evolution toward plant-based diets. Just saying.
…you should definitely listen to Jane Goodall, who argues that if we want to reduce the threat of pandemics we also need to change our relationship with wildlife:
We are now feeling the true cost of wildlife trafficking and the destruction of the natural world that brings us into closer contact with wildlife. My own work has shown me how thousands of great apes are stolen from the wild every year. They are hunted for bush meat and for their body parts, and infants are captured alive to be sold overseas illegally as pets, or for zoos, entertainment, and tourist attractions. This market is distressing for any lover of these wonderful creatures, but it also threatens their very existence. Many other species are in danger too, including elephants, rhinos, the big cats, giraffes, reptiles, and more. Pangolins are the most trafficked animals on Earth. As we mourn the affect this trade has on the individuals that suffer it, we must also see that this global demand and tragedy created the circumstances that have likely resulted in the current pandemic. The risk it poses to humans is certainly another reason to stand up against this behavior.
In the current COVID pandemic there are an increasing number of bans on wildlife trade, and “wet” markets. The real question, though, is whether those bans will remain in place. I hope so, but in the past bans have eventually been lifted. Until the next pandemic.