EVGENY LEBEDEV: Now they must shut these toxic animal markets

Now they must shut these toxic animal markets: The WHO needs to declare these an urgent threat to public health in China after the coronavirus outbreak, says conservation campaigner EVGENY LEBEDEV

As details of China’s experience with the coronavirus emerge, a number of things are becoming clear. 

The first is the dystopian brutality of the lockdown imposed on the Chinese people by their authoritarian government. 

Then there is the scale of human loss in the country, hidden for reasons of international ‘prestige’, which can only be estimated from the activity of crematoriums. 

And yet another concern is that the wildlife markets, which were quickly closed by authorities nationwide, have begun to reopen. 

One concern is that the wildlife markets, which were quickly closed by authorities nationwide, have begun to reopen. Pictured: a seafood market in Guangzhou, China

We have seen photos of the filthy cages filled with miserable animals and heard testimony that the only difference is that now policemen are on the lookout for journalists. 

The Chinese government has demonstrated its command over the country: the fact that the markets remain open is thus a political choice. How long will the Chinese test our patience with their toxic treatment of wild animals? 

And how long will the international community continue to mumble faint criticism, without acting to force their hand? As patron of conservation charity Space For Giants, I oversaw the kind of international co-operation required to solve the global problem of elephant poaching. 

Our most recent summit brought together leaders from across the African continent, and our use of both public pressure and international agreements has led to real results. 

One reserve in Kenya, for which we are responsible, has reduced poaching by 84 per cent in recent years. We can no longer allow archaic Chinese tradition based on nothing but superstitious belief, be it the traditional medicine that venerates the rhino horn, or the sale of live wild animals in wet markets, to continue. 

The foremost medical professional in the US, Dr Anthony Fauci, said the mind ‘boggles’ that these markets, with their ‘unusual human-animal interface’ likely to produce zoonotic diseases are still open. I wholeheartedly agree. The World Health Organisation has hardly covered itself in glory through this episode. 

But it can redeem itself by declaring live animal markets an urgent threat to public health in China and wherever else they may be found. 

The international community should urge China to enforce the bans that its rubber stamp parliament passed. And we should send outside observers, to ensure that these measures are being upheld. I was born in a communist country and lived through Chernobyl – I know the official narrative is never to be trusted. 

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