Before its closure, exotic animals " from snakes to civets " were available at a wet market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
That market is ground zero of a new virus killing people with pneumonia-like symptoms and it is infecting growing numbers of others around the world.
According to official reports, as of 11pm Wednesday, the previously unknown coronavirus had killed 17 people and infected more than 500 others.
Most of the infections and all of the deaths were in Hubei province where Wuhan is located. 375 of the infections were in the city itself.
Many worked or lived near Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, which experts believe is the source of the outbreak, with the virus jumping from wild animals on sale there.
The market was shut down in late December at the start of the outbreak and is now under surveillance by security staff.
One stall that was on the east side of the market caught people's attention online. According to a menu posted by the stallholder on Dazhong Dianping, the most popular review and rating app in China, around 100 varieties of live animals and poultry were available, from foxes to wolf cubs and masked palm civets.
In 2002-2003, civets were believed to have acted as an intermediate host carrying a virus from bats that jumped to humans and led to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak, according to the World Health Organization. Sars killed 774 people worldwide and infected 8,098 in total.
Wuhan residents confirmed that crab, shrimp and striped bass were the main items sold in the nearly 540,000 square foot market, but in other corners, exotic animals were also on offer.
A woman living nearby surnamed Ai, 59, said she saw some stallholders selling live animals in the market.
"There were turtles, snakes, rats, hedgehogs and pheasants," she said.
Another stallholder who sells vegetables near the seafood market said he knew the market sold live animals.
"Some stalls have more kinds (of live animals) and some have less, but they have sold these for a long time," he said, declining to give his name because of the sensitivity of the issue.
A notice from the Wuhan Administration for Industry and Commerce in September also showed that live animals were on sale in the market.
In the notice, it said government officials inspected eight stalls that sold live animals, including tiger frogs, snakes, and hedgehogs, and checked their wildlife business licenses and approval documents. "Unapproved wildlife business is strictly forbidden," it said.
Captive breeding of wildlife for commercial purposes is allowed in China but companies must get a licence from provincial authorities, according to the national wildlife protection law.
Health authorities in Wuhan said on Sunday they would increase controls on agriculture and seafood markets, and ban the sale of live poultry and wildlife.
Zhong Nanshan, director of the China State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease and a world expert on the Sars virus, said after a visit to Wuhan that the source of the new type coronavirus was probably from wildlife, such as bamboo rats or badgers.
"The outbreak concentrated in two districts in Wuhan, where there are big seafood markets," Zhong said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV on Monday.
"While they are called seafood markets, many vendors are selling game. According to preliminary epidemiological analysis, the virus is probably transmitted from wildlife (at the markets) to humans."
Shi Zhengli, a researcher with the Wuhan Institute of Virology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the real problem was in people's habits, rather than with the animals.
"The simplest way to prevent such infectious diseases is to stay away from wildlife, say no to game, avoid their habitats and livestock and farms mixing with wildlife," Shi said.
Hu Xingdou, an independent political economist, said Chinese people's love for eating wildlife had deep cultural, economic and political roots.
"While the West values freedom and other human rights, Chinese people view food as their primary need because starving is a big threat and an unforgettable part of the national memory," Hu said.
"While feeding themselves is not a problem to many Chinese nowadays, eating novel food or meat, organs or parts from rare animals or plants has become a measure of identity to some people."
The 2003 Sars outbreak saw a decline in the consumption of exotic animals by adventurous Chinese diners in the following years.
According to a survey released in 2006 by San Francisco-based WildAid and the official China Wildlife Conservation Association, about 70% of 24,000 people surveyed in 16 mainland cities had not eaten wild animals in the previous year, up from 51% in a similar survey in 1999.
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