Researchers at nine organizations including Duke Kunshan have called on China to permanently outlaw the consumption of wild animals and strengthen legal protection of species’ natural habitats, as the country looks to shore up legislation in the wake of the coronavirus (Covid-19).
Scientists have yet to confirm the origin of Covid-19, which has killed more than 16,500 people worldwide since doctors first detected the virus in Wuhan, central China. However, early reports suggesting a link to people eating wild bats led to an instant response from the public and authorities.
Beijing placed a temporary ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals on Feb. 24, while legislators have also been reviewing the nation’s Law on the Protection of Wild Animals.
Around the time of the initial outbreak, experts at Duke Kunshan’s Environmental Research Center (ERC) joined colleagues at other leading organizations in pooling their professional knowledge and experiences in natural science, law, public policy and other fields to provide insight into what revisions to the law could advance protection of wild species in China.
“We found many gaps in the existing laws and regulations, a lack of enforcement and weak supervision, precisely because most government departments and the public don’t pay enough attention to the protection of wild animals and biodiversity,” said Binbin Li, assistant professor of environmental policy. “People don’t recognize how wild animal protection and biodiversity are relevant to human society.”
Li and fellow ERC researchers worked closely with experts from Friends of Nature, the Chinese Field Conservation Alliance, the Shanshui Conservation Center, the Guangzhou Green Data Environmental Service Center, the Guarding Wilderness Volunteers Network, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Shenzhen Paradise International Foundation, and Peking University, both its Center for Nature and Society and its Institute of Ecology.
Together they carried out big data analysis and a comparative study of international policies, as well as held online seminars and surveyed 100,000 people, before submitting a report to the Legal Affairs Committee of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the legislature.
In addition to outlawing the consumption of wild animals and captive-bred animals, the research group also called on lawmakers to improve the system for developing protected species lists, tighten regulation of the wildlife trade and target illegal practices, and better enforce wild animal quarantine standards.
Li, a leading biodiversity conservationist, said it is important to use the attention now focused on wildlife protection to bring about long-term institutional change.
“Will amending the law solve all the problems? Of course not. But better legislation can facilitate more effective supervision,” she said. “More importantly, amending the law would send a signal that China is an emerging leader in environmental protection and would show its determination to end the prioritization of wild animal utilization.”
Changing the law is only the first step, Li added. “More important is changing people’s concepts regarding wild animal protection. We need to realize that every wild animal is only a small part of nature and that biodiversity and ecological safety are key to public security and the stable, sustainable development of human society.”