Dr Prayag and Meera Bhardwaj
Although China has banned wildlife trading and consumption of its meat to prevent any future outbreaks of Coronaviruses (CoVs) but how serious are they in ‘implementing this order’ – is a million dollar question? It is now being reported by local media that even as the restrictions were removed – illegal trading and consumption of wildlife re-started in Dongguan and Guilin – the CoV hotspots. The ‘Wet Markets’ too in some provinces have started selling bats, civet cats and other wildlife while the world grapples with rising infection and deaths due to COVID-19.
Further, this skepticism arises as the Chinese government has recently recommended a Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM] that has BEAR BILE [extracted from Asiatic Black Bear] as part of its ingredients for treating serious coronavirus patients. Presently, with wildlife trading and consumption exceeding a business of more than $ 74 billion (Chinese Academy of Engineering Report-2016) and employing nearly 14 million people – one cannot believe that the Chinese government will so easily shut this industry which has become so dangerous to biodiversity and the very survival of mankind.
Wildlife and health experts in China had called in for a total ban for its deleterious effects on biodiversity and the frequent potential for spreading infectious diseases. The ban on wildlife trading/consumption was imposed after lot of delays [18 years] and hiccups and protests from wildlife activists from China and wildlife organizations across the world.
The Covid-19 crisis which the world is facing today originated in the Huanan Seafood Market of Wuhan City in Hubei Province where species ranging from amphibians to reptiles to mammals were traded in the most unhygienic and horrible conditions leading to contamination and jumping of viruses across species.
THE SARS-2003 FIASCO
time in 2002-03 for the SARS epidemic too – China was responsible as the coronavirus originated from seven affected municipalities in Guangdong province. From here – it spread to many countries and China had to apologize for its slow response to alert the WHO.
Research by Chinese scientists showed that early cases of infection were the food handlers who HANDLED/KILLED/ PREPARED and DISTRIBUTED a variety of dead and LIVE WILDLIFE. In fact, Patient-1 from Foshan City had prepared food from a variety of animals – Cat, Snake and Chicken while Patient-4 from Zhongshan had prepared steamed dishes involving – Civet Cats, Snakes, Foxes and Rats.
The index patient in the neighboring province of Guangxi was a driver working with a wildlife dealer who supplied wild animals from provinces of China and Vietnam. After these investigations and data collection – SARS-COV was isolated from Himalayan Palm Civets. The investigations were done by researchers of Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, Guangdong and assisted by two teams of WHO [Epidemiologic Clues to SARS origin in China- NCBI – paper published].
Even today in China’s agriculture produce markets [also Wet Markets] – live and dead wild animals are traded openly – a range of mammalian, reptilian and avian species can be found here while a black market exists across many provinces extending up to Vietnam and other countries in south east Asia.
According to experts, both China and Vietnam are responsible for killing of lakhs of wild animals every year and also responsible for many animals joining the critically endangered list and extinction list.
CHINESE EXOTIC FETISH
Apart from this, the eating habits of Chinese and their consumption of a variety of wildlife meat – many a time, contaminated clearly shows how this may have led to jumping of viruses from species to species. The Wet Wildlife and Seafood markets in Wuhan and across China is a place where wildlife is traded in the most unhygienic conditions where animals are oozing with pus or bleeding or excreting fecal matter while they are kept in cages placed one above the other.
In fact, 54 wild animals have been listed by the Chinese forest authorities for farming and consumption. Despite many attempts to breed Pangolins in captivity, the farmers were unsuccessful. So this led to people taking up hunting and large scale killing which has wiped out of this species in China. Also, the Huanan Seafood market was openly selling the meat of bamboo rats and civet cats [host of SARS epidemic] till it was shut down in January 2020.
FORCED TO EAT WILDLIFE
It was in early 1960s, Chinese took to hunting of wildlife as also farming of wildlife species due to extreme poverty and starvation. This was the time when millions of Chinese died due to starvation and malnutrition when the Chinese Communist Party shifted their economy from an agrarian to an industrial one. Therefore, people were forced to EAT EVERY TYPE OF WILDLIFE SPECIES especially in the rural areas.
Encouraged by the erstwhile Mao government, this lifestyle [over a period of years] led to smuggling and trading of wildlife from other countries. In fact, China is largely responsible for extinction of many species of pangolins in the world as they not only ate these anteaters but also used its scales for making TCM.
For centuries, Chinese (also Vietnamese) have thrived on smuggling a variety of wildlife from South East Asia and Africa not only for consumption of meat but also for making drugs for arthritis to erectile dysfunction.
Wildlife parts like body fluids, bones, skin, teeth, nails as also different organs of many species has been used for making TCM. This includes killing of tigers, leopards, bears, cobras, rhinos, pangolins, bats, snakes, civet cats, frogs, etc.
BEAR BILE FOR Covid-19
Secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, bile from various species of bears, including Asiatic black bears and brown bears, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine [TCM] since the 8th century. It contains high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid, also known as ursodiol, which is clinically proven to help dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease. However, Ursodeoxycholic acid is available as a synthetic drug worldwide for decades now.
Prof Clifford Steer, University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, has studied the medical benefits of this acid. He has found no evidence that bear bile is an effective treatment for the novel coronavirus. According to him, this acid is distinct from other bile acids in its ability to keep cells alive and may alleviate symptoms of COVID-19 due to its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to calm the immune response.
AN UNBEARABLE LIFE
Bear bile is a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder of a bear. This is procured by hunting wild bears or raising bears in farms. In China, bears are raised on farms and kept their whole life (30 years) in small cages and fed.
The bile is taken out by creating a hole for free drip – drop by drop. It is also taken by a permanent catheter in the liver. Both methods are very painful. It is horrible to imagine an animal fed and kept open for those few drops of bile.
NEED FOR ACTION
An endangered species – the Asiatic Black Bear is listed in Appendix 1 of CITES but this has not stopped China from exploiting and twisting global organizations for its own benefit. No country dares to point fingers – not even US or raise questions on irregularities and violations committed by China as they are economically dominant.
Health experts warn if the Chinese fetish is not stopped in the coming days, the world will soon see the EMERGENCE of NEWER and NEWER ZOONOTIC DISEASES and more PANDEMICS and more lockdowns.
Maybe, sanctions on this country will lead to strict shutdowns of wildlife trading centres and eating in both China and Vietnam in the days to come….