China has traded and consumed wildlife for centuries, using the animals for everything from traditional Chinese medicine to laboratory research, and fur to food. Since the coronavirus epidemic began, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration has confiscated 39,000 wild animals and “cleaned up” more than 350,000 sites such as restaurants and markets where the animals are traded.
According to a report released by the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the industry is valued at 520 billion yuan (US$74 billion), and employs more than 14 million people.
China is the world’s largest producer of fur products. Mink, fox and raccoon dog pelts are the most profitable.
For centuries traditional Chinese medicine has used various wildlife to treat a range of human ailments. Pangolins are in particularly high demand, used to treat conditions such as blocked breast ducts, rheumatoid arthritis and poor blood circulation, despite no scientific evidence of their effectiveness.
There has long been a wildlife-eating culture in southern China and consuming exotic foods has become a status symbol over the past three decades. The wide-scale breeding of wild animals means it is relatively easy to order delicacies such as bear paw, pangolin and migratory birds straight from the menu in certain restaurants. And in some of China’s impoverished regions, such as Guizhou and Guangxie, wildlife farming is an important source of income for people.
The Chinese government has long encouraged the commercial use of wild animals. A 2018 document, issued by the State Council even called for farmers to “accelerate the growth of the farming and watching/display of wild animals”.