China Wildlife Trade Ban Expands to Consumption of Wild Animals as Coronavirus Spreads
China has banned the trade and consumption of wild animals in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed more than 2,700 lives and infected more than 81,000 people, most of them in China, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
A temporary ban on trade in wildlife announced in January was expected to continue until the epidemic was brought under control. However, with the spread of the disease caused by the virus, known as COVID-19, showing no signs of abating, a more comprehensive ban was passed on Feb. 24 by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), which exercises legislative power in the country.
Some see it as a step toward a permanent ban that would have to be enshrined in the wildlife laws of the country. If passed, it would be a big boost in the global fight against the illegal trade, since China is a major destination for trafficked animals. "If China is able to shut down the illegal animal trade, it will make the world a bit safer from viruses like SARS-CoV, and have a huge impact on wildlife conservation efforts," Benjamin Neuman, a virologist at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, told Mongabay in an email. "It's a thing that needs to happen, and if COVID-19 is the reason, so be it."
Though the trade in endangered species is banned under CITES, weak enforcement and substantial demand for animal meat and for animal products used in traditional medicines have hindered efforts to control this trade in China. Xinhua cited "the prominent problem of excessive consumption of wild animals, and the huge hidden dangers to public health and safety" as justification for the ban.
Researchers say they suspect the epicenter of the epidemic was a wet market in Wuhan, where wild animals and bushmeat was being sold. The novel coronavirus most likely originated in bats and made the jump to humans. The ban on wildlife trade and consumption is an attempt to limit the exposure of people to wild animals that could carry viruses that humans haven't encountered before and can't effectively defend against.
The suggestion that the new virus passed through an intermediary host like pangolins before infecting humans has brought attention to the illegal trade in wild animals. Pangolins, shy nocturnal animals found in Asia and Africa, are considered the most trafficked mammals in the world. Though trade in pangolins and pangolin products is banned in China and under the CITES treaty, there exists a massive demand for pangolin meat and scales for use in traditional medicine.
China's wildlife laws promulgated in 1989 regulate this trade, but it does not impose a total ban on consumption of meat from wild animals and allows captive breeding for commercial purposes.
The new ban was not introduced through an amendment to the country's wildlife laws, because the legislative session has been postponed in light of the coronavirus crisis. The ban, which takes immediate effect, covers not just wild-caught species recognized nationally and internationally as threatened species, but also the hunting, trading and transport of all terrestrial wild animals for human consumption. It also applies to wild animals born and raised in breeding facilities.
Beijing had already imposed a temporary embargo on sales of wild animals in January. The three state agencies that issued that restriction — the State Administration of Market Regulation, the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs, and the National Forestry and Grassland Administration — had warned against the consumption of wild animal meat, but hadn't gone so far as to ban it.
During the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-2003, a limited ban was similarly imposed by China, but was later lifted. "The embargo on wild animal trade is a reasonable decision for disease control," said Chengxin Zhang, a researcher at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "The Chinese embargo of trading and consumption of civet, the most notable intermediate host of SARS coronavirus, is thought to partially contribute to the disease control and eventual containment of SARS."
Preliminary research done by Zhang and his colleagues, not yet peer-reviewed or published, supports claims that pangolins are a highly likely host, alongside bats, of the new coronavirus and others similar to it. "The involvement of bats, civets, and pangolins in the SARS and COVID-19 outbreak suggests that a permanent ban on wild animal trades by 'wet' markets should effectively minimize future risk of zoonotic disease spillovers," he said.
There is a growing call for China to keep the ban in place permanently and amend its wildlife laws accordingly. Conservationists say they hope a permanent ban and messaging around the dangers of wildlife consumption could dampen the demand for contraband wildlife products. Some surveys suggest that people are now more inclined to support such a ban. "There has been a growing concern among people over the consumption of wild animals and the hidden dangers it brings to public health security since the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak," Zhang Tiewei, a spokesman for the Chinese legislature's Legislative Affairs Commission, told Reuters.
Others fear that such a ban would push the trade underground and make it even harder to track the emergence of new diseases. According to the World Health Organization, almost three-quarters of all epidemics in recent decades have spilled over from animals. There are also concerns that such a ban will face stiff resistance from stakeholders in the multibillion-dollar wildlife trade industry in China, which employs millions of people.
The new ban also calls for better enforcement of existing laws, a long-standing demand from wildlife activists. The group of experts that advised the NPC Standing Committee on possible revisions to the wildlife laws also presented recommendations for finding substitutes for animal products that are used in traditional Chinese medicine, according to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.
"The aspects of traditional medicine that use ground-up animal parts are entirely based on superstition rather than science, and as the latest outbreak shows, are rather dangerous nonsense," Neuman said. "But tradition is a powerful thing, in China as everywhere else. If the Chinese government is willing to take strong measures to enforce the new rules, they may actually succeed."
Malavika Vyawahare is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter: @MalavikaVy
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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