Will the new Chinese ban on the eating of rare animals reduce the likelihood of another SARS epidemic?
In 2003 SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) swept across china and surrounding countries in one of the largest epidemics of recent times. With 8273 cases, 775 deaths, and an estimated $40 billion worth of damage to worldwide economy, SARS bought China to its knees. The cause of the outbreak?
Many believe that SARS made the jump to humans via Civet Cats in Guangdong province. Civet Cats are considered a delicacy by many is southern china, and much of the Civet cats sold for meat in China are brought up from surrounding countries.
Whilst research suggests that the infection did not originate from the Civet Cats (more likely that the civet cats came into contact with infected horseshoe bats), the danger of zoonotic transmission between animals/meats that have not been properly regulated (or in many cases, illegally poached or imported) and humans remains.
China’s new legislation could see people caught eating rare animals, or using medicines containing them, spending up to 10 years in prison. It is hoped that the threat of jail will be enough to reduce demand for the meat of 420 rare animals will fall amongst the burgeoning Chinese middle class, for whom the eating of these animals holds a certain social prestige. It is this demand that has maintained high levels of illegal hunting in China despite repeated attempts by the Chinese government to legislate against it.