HSI: Wildlife wet markets are closed in China, but will they open again?

Will wildlife wet markets in China open again?
Wet market in China, 2016 © Kelly Guerin / We Animals

This is a paraphrased summary of our interview with Dr. Peter J. Li, China specialist for the Humane Society International (HSI), where he gives us an inside look at the current situation of animal well-being in China. You can watch the complete interview at the end of the article.

“Since Jan 23rd all wildlife wet markets are closed in China”, Dr. Peter J. Li tells The Animal Reader. “The livestock wet markets have been reopened.”

China has two types of wet markets, wildlife and livestock. Wildlife wet markets are relatively new and have been introduced into Chinese society over the last forty years, Dr. Li explains.

The livestock wet markets are a bit more common but are mostly visited by an older generation who are looking for fresh, as in freshly slaughtered, warm meat. On livestock wet markets, you will mostly find chickens, ducks, rabbits, marine life, and in some places cats and dogs.

In response to the Covid-19 virus, the Chinese government closed down the Wuhan wildlife wet market on the first of January. On the 23rd of January, all wildlife wet markets nationwide were closed and they have remained closed ever since, according to Dr. Li.

As businesses slowly starting to reopen after the lockdown, the livestock wet markets have reopened. It remains to be seen if the wildlife wet markets will also reopen. China doesn’t have a good track record regarding this issue. Barely two months after the SARS pandemic ended in 2003 China reopened its wildlife wet markets.

Billion-dollar industry
In 2016 it was reported that the Chinese wildlife industry is valued at 520 billion yuan (74 billion dollars). China has the largest wildlife exploitation industry in the world, Dr. Li explains. The industry consists of four parts, breeding, transport, wet markets and restaurants. Here hundreds of millions of wildlife animals come in close proximity of each other making them cross infection hotbeds for many dangerous viruses.

Banning the wildlife industry as a whole might seem impossible when looking at its size, but compared to China’s gross domestic product (GDP), it only constitutes to 0.6 percent or less than 1 percent, Dr. Li says. If there is a will, China could easily phase it out without significant economic impact.

It looks like the momentum is in the right direction. The human and economic costs of the current Covid-19 pandemic are changing public perception. More and more people are venting their outrage on social media regarding these industries.

And also politically, the local, regional and national governments are reacting in promising ways. The national government is even doing experiments in two major cities, where wildlife consumption has been banned, to poll public perception. The reactions so far have been promising.

The wildlife industry
China’s wildlife industry is extremely cruel to animals. For example, we have 20,000 bile bears who live in constant pain with permanent open wounds to extract their bile.

Chinese people are compassionate, but I think our rapid modernization and ascent to becoming the second-largest economy in the world has brought us a distorted view that animals can be exploited economically like any other natural resource, Dr. Li says.

distorted view that animals can be exploited economically like any other natural resource

He emphasizes that it’s not common in China to eat wildlife. HSI researched the refrigerators of hundreds of families and looked at what kind of meat they bought. Li says they didn’t find any snake or deer or other wildlife. Wildlife meat is mostly consumed in special restaurants where it’s sold as a delicacy, he explains.

The wildlife industry has been promoting the meat as having medicinal properties, which can help with poor health, sexual dysfunction, fertility or better skin. None of these claims have ever been substantiated by scientific evidence, but sadly there are plenty of gullible people who fall for these marketing tricks.

Watch the complete interview with Dr. Peter J. Li, China specialist for the Humane Society International, below where we discuss the wildlife wet markets, the Yulin dog meat festival, the absence of animal cruelty laws in China and more.

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