Coronavirus: the deadly consequences of our exploitation of animals?

As the spread of Coronavirus accelerates, the world is on tenterhooks. So how should we face our regrets over the outbreak, avoid a backlash against animals, and best ensure this never happens again?

Photo: Yicai Global

The current outbreak of Coronavirus reportedly originated from Huanan live animal market in Wuhan, China, where bats, snakes, civets and other wildlife is confined live until slaughtered, and sold to meet a growing demand for wild meat. It’s common practice at Asian markets to keep live animals trussed or caged alongside the remains of recently slaughtered bodies, and the process – widely criticised as unhygienic as well as inhumane – is thought to be the root cause of infection.

There have also been reports of brutal repercussions for companion animals in China, as isolated cases of pet owners turning on their dogs and cats for fear of cross-contraction. Advice from the World Health Organisation states that Coronavirus is not transmissable from dogs or cats to humans, but these companion animals are at risk of their own species-specific strains of the virus. You can read our response to the issue here.

Tragically, at the end of January 213 people are known to have died from Coronavirus in China, with almost 10,000 cases identified nationally, and cases diagnosed in another 18 countries. While China has the impressive resources to build two hospitals in just one week to help treat and quarantine sick people, many Asian countries do not have the capacity or wealth to react with such efficiency, and will face even graver human cost if the virus takes hold.

Although the Government has placed a temporary ban on live animal markets, the long-term plan is to reopen once the virus is under control. ACTAsia is calling for a permanent ban on live animal markets and the intensive farming of wild animals in Asia. Although dogs and cats cannot carry or transmit Coronavirus, we also call for a ban on their sale at markets for meat or fur.

Live animals are kept caged until a customer places an order for meat. Carcasses and animal remains are kept in close proximity (see lower right corner).

A ban should be implemented in Asian countries including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, where live wildlife markets are common. Many international organisations with humanitarian, welfare and environmental agendas are also calling for a permanent ban.

How ACTAsia is helping

ACTAsia supports a proposal for a permanent ban on the captive breeding of wildlife for all commercial purposes, as well as wildlife markets. We will suport our friends and colleagues as they present a proposal at the Two Sessions event, or Lianghui, in March – the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the National People’s Congress make up the biggest political event of the year in China.

Our Caring for Life Education programme teaches people the potential dangers of manipulating and exploiting nature for commercial profit.

Our work with consumers encourages people to think about the origins of the goods they consume, including meat, wildlife products and animal fur. We ask adults to consider humane alternatives, and we educate children to help them understand why cruelty towards any sentient species can never be justified.

With the associated threat to companion animals as efforts to halt the spread of Coronavirus continue, it is important to remember that pet ownership is a relatively new concept in much of Asia. The responsibilities that come with companion animals are not yet fully understood.

Through Caring for Life Education, ACTAsia helps children and adults to develop compassion and critical thinking, encouraging people to become responsible guardians for our planet, considerate consumers and compassionate pet owners.

How you can help

It’s important that Asian countries ask their own governments to make changes to national law, which is why ACTAsia will be presenting a proposal by the people of China to the Two Session in China, in March. But internationally, there are other things we can do to help.

  • If you’re a tourist in Asia, NEVER visit live animal markets, not even to look out of curiosity. Just by going, you would be supporting a dangerous, destructive and inhumane trade
  • DON’T buy real fur. Around 50% of the world’s fur is produced in China. Fur comes from wild animals, usually intensively farmed or captive-bred, creating alarming potential for the spread of disease, and severe brutality
  • If you’re an Asian organisation, please call upon your country’s government to ban all live animal markets, the wildlife trade and intensively farmed animals

“The tragic human deaths already recorded in China are just the start of this global emergency. If Asia is to prevent further heartbreak, its collective governments must support a cultural change by permanently outlawing live animal markets, the wildlife trade and fur farms. The commercial misuse of nature is dangerous.

We must help Asian societies understand that people, animals and nature are all interconnected, and why exploiting animals is not in anyone’s best interest.”

ACTAsia CEO, Pei Su

Live animals are sold as pets as well as meat at markets in Asia.

A price list at a live animal market in China lists species of animal available to buy as meat

ACTAsia also calls for a ban on the intensive farming of wild animals for fur.