China announced on Monday it will ban the consumption of most wild animals and severely crack down on the illegal wildlife trade to help prevent zoonotic disease outbreaks like the new coronavirus, which is rapidly expanding to other countries and has infected over 79,000 people. 

The decision, which was adopted by China’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, sets the stage for further revisions to regulations on wildlife trade, live animal markets, and to China’s 1989 Wildlife Protection Law, which regulates the “breeding, domestication and utilization” of wildlife.

“The decisions clearly stipulate that all hunting, trade, transport, and eating of wildlife that is prohibited by the Wildlife Protection Law and other relevant regulations must be strictly prohibited,” said the NPC statement. “All consumption of ‘terrestrial wildlife of important ecological, scientific or social value’ and other terrestrial wildlife as food; including captive-bred terrestrial wildlife, shall be totally prohibited. Hunting, trading or transporting terrestrial wildlife that has naturally bred in the wild for the purposes of consumption as food shall be prohibited.”

The announcement appears to indicate that some species, like pigeons and rabbits, will be recategorized as livestock, while trade for non-food purposes, such as traditional medicine or pets, will be addressed through “improved regulations” from the State Council and its relevant departments. The directive also specifically excluded marine animals. 

More details are expected over the coming weeks, including at the third annual session of the 13th NPC, which was postponed from its scheduled date of March 5th. 

“The Chinese government is hitting the key areas hard – ban live markets, stricter laws and penalties, better enforcement and public education,”  said WildAid CEO Peter Knights. “After SARS, the trade was reopened. This time it would be prudent that the move will permanently protect the public. The tremendous health and economic risks of wildlife consumption massively outweigh the small profits made by sellers and breeders. We hope China can set a strong precedent for the whole of Asia and hopefully influence the many African countries that are impacted by the illegal wildlife trade to follow suit.” 

Recent Chinese government statements, opinions in government publications and vocal public opinion expressed in conventional and social media have clearly shown public attitudes have moved forward considerably, especially in the larger cities. A January online survey by Beijing University found 97% of respondents were “strongly against wildlife consumption.” 

In a February speech, President Xi Jinping said: “We have long recognized the risks of consuming wildlife, but the “game industry” is still huge and poses a major public health hazard. No more indifference! I have given instructions on the subject. Relevant departments should strengthen law enforcement, strengthen market supervision, resolutely ban and crack down on illegal wildlife markets and trade, resolutely eradicate the bad habit of indiscriminate eating of wildlife, and control major public health risks at the source.”

As it did with the ivory trade, China may be able to turn this devastating crisis currently harming its international reputation into a positive if it can lead the world in implementing a comprehensive solution. Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia all have significant consumption of wildlife in restaurants and markets. In Africa, where primates are often part of the trade, the cross-species disease transmission risks would seem even higher, with West and Central African countries particularly at risk. 

WildAid’s wildlife campaigns, operating with a “No Trading, No Killing” slogan and which have been running in partnership with the Chinese government since 2006, feature dozens of prominent local ambassadors, including actors, athletes, and business leaders delivering messaging via high production value ads. As well as significantly increasing awareness, these campaigns helped shift societal behavior with transformational outcomes, including reducing shark fin imports in China by 82% and reducing the price of ivory and rhino horn by 70%.

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About WildAid

WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $230 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too. 

Journalists on deadline may email communications@wildaid.org