Even familiar menu items like poultry and cattle — whose pathogens we have largely adapted to over millennia — occasionally throw a curveball, like bird flu or mad-cow disease.
For the sake of these wild species’ future, and for human health, we need to reduce consumption of these wild animals,” said Diana Bell, a wildlife disease and conservation biologist at University of East Anglia who has studied SARS, Ebola and other pathogens.
“But, 17 years on (from SARS), apparently that hasn’t happened.”
Wild-meat consumption itself is not necessarily dangerous — most viruses die once their host is killed.
But pathogens can jump to humans during the capture, transportation, or slaughter of animals, especially if sanitation is poor or protective equipment not used.
On Thursday, the southern province of Guangdong, a center of rare-species consumption, said it was immediately halting trade in wild animals.
Similar promises were made following SARS, yet conservationists say the trade continues, aided by loophole-riddled Chinese laws regarding many species, and episodic or just plain lax enforcement.
Chinese authorities have addressed the problem partly by encouraging a farmed-animal industry.
This has included for endangered species like tigers, whose parts are prized in China and other Asian countries as aphrodisiacs or for other uses.
But that comes with its own downside, by providing a channel for more sought-after wild-caught beasts to be laundered as “farmed,” Bell said.
She adds that wildlife traders also have become more savvy, avoiding market scrutiny by selling directly to restaurants.