By Sharon Atieno

In responding to the Coronavirus outbreak which has killed around 81 people, China recently imposed a nationwide ban on wildlife trade. A move which has been applauded by animal rights groups and organizations.

The government directive forbids raising, transporting or selling all wild animal species until the national epidemic situation is over.

Commending the move, Edith Kabesiime, Wildlife Campaign Manager (Africa) said that the ban will prevent terrible suffering endured by millions of wild animals exported from Africa to Chinese markets.

“Crucially, it will also put a stop to the horrific conditions that serve as such a lethal hotbed of disease. We hope that this courageous step is made permanent and extended to all wildlife imports and exports, to help prevent any future crises of this nature,” she said.

“Wild animals belong in the wild. This wildlife trade ban by China will help keep them there.”

China is the world’s largest market for wildlife products. Consumption of several rare and endangered species — for example, pangolins, rhinos, elephants, and totoaba — are considered among the biggest threats to their survival in the wild.

The outbreak that occurred in a wildlife market in central China, the World Animal protection says, is potentially suspected to have been transferred from snakes to humans. Snakes are often sold for meat consumption in China, and there is a growing demand for snakes as pets in many cities.

Captive reptiles are well-documented as carriers of pathogens, such as bacteria, parasites, and viruses that can be transferred to humans. However, the exact source of the disease is yet to be determined.

World Animal Protection warns that the atrocious conditions of wild animals captured for sale as pets, is an epidemic in waiting.

Snakes sold at markets like that reported in Wuhan province, China, and in many other markets across the world, have suffered horrendous conditions before they get there. They have either been captured in the wild, stuffed together in bags or small cages for transportation to the market, or intensively bred in ranches and farms where they are kept in overcrowded containers, the World Animal Protection notes.

“Either way, these conditions are incubators for the transmission of disease and the evolution of more virulent pathogens,” a statement by the organization reads.

To prevent the occurrence of future outbreaks, the World Animal Protection calls for a halt in purchase of wild animals whether dead or alive.

This is the second time, there has been an outbreak of wild animal related disease in China following the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-2003, which made more than 8,000 people ill and killed almost 800. The disease was linked to animals such as bats and masked palm civet.