Wildlife trade likely to be the source of coronavirus outbreak

It has already caused over 100 deaths, infected thousands of people, and put a spotlight on illegal wildlife trade. As controversy swells, China’s government is forced to take action.

A dangerous trade in China with consequences now being felt worldwide

Blamed for the current coronavirus outbreak, the wild animal trade has been temporarily banned by Beijing. Based on current information, an animal source seems the most likely primary source of this outbreak, with limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts.

The virus is believed to have originated at a fish market located in Wuhan, in central China. Stalls at the market sold a wide variety of animals, including rats, wolf cubs, and giant salamanders. Aside from the environmental impact, the bushmeat trade also exposes humans to viruses carried by those animals. Scientists at the Global Virome Project estimate that wildlife could harbor 1.7 million undiscovered viruses. Half of those could potentially be dangerous to humans.

Since the 1980s, several epidemics have been associated with animal sources. These include AIDS, transmitted by a monkey, the Ebola virus, transmitted by a bat, and SARS, transmitted by a civet. The SARS outbreak, which also originated in China, killed nearly 800 people in the early 2000s.

Fearing another outbreak of that scale, the Chinese government has taken several steps: the Wuhan fish market was closed, and the trade and transport of wild animals have been banned until the epidemic ends. Now, however, NGOs are demanding more than temporary measures. They hope that the younger generations will turn away from ancient traditions.