Fri. Feb 26th, 2021


Goodasangam – Literary Arts

Statement on COVID-19:wild animal markets and bear bile farms-Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE Founder – The Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace

The world is facing unprecedented challenges. At the time of writing, the coronavirus COVID-19
has infected over 3 million people globally and as of 29th April 218,386 people have died. At
present, people in most countries around the world are self-isolating at home (either alone or
with family), keeping social distance and reducing going outdoors to a minimum. Some
businesses have totally closed down, some carry on with staff working from home, some
people are temporarily laid off, and thousands of people around the world have lost their jobs.
Already the economic cost of all this is catastrophic.
We all follow the news and pray that the lockdown will end in country after country as the peak
infection and death rate is reached and then gradually drops. This has already happened in
China, where the COVID-19 coronavirus originated, thanks to the stringent measures
undertaken by the Chinese government. We hope that a vaccine will soon be developed and
that we can gradually get back to normal. But we must never forget what we have been
through and we must take the necessary steps to prevent another such pandemic in the future.
The tragedy is that a pandemic of this sort has long been predicted by those studying zoonotic
diseases (those that, like COVID-19, spill over from animals into humans). It is almost certain
that this pandemic started with such a spill over in China’s Wuhan seafood market that also
sold terrestrial wildlife for food, along with chickens and fish.
When wild animals are sold in such markets, often illegally, they are typically kept in small
cages, crowded together, and often slaughtered on the spot. Humans, both vendors and
customers, may thus be contaminated with the faecal material, urine, blood and other bodily
fluids of a large variety of species – such as civets, pangolins, bats, racoon dogs and snakes. This
provides a perfect environment for viruses to spill over from their animal hosts into humans.
Another zoonotic disease, SARS, originated in another wildlife market in Guangdong.
Most wet markets in Asia are not dissimilar to farmers’ markets in Europe and the US. There are
thousands of wet markets in Asia and around the world where fresh produce – vegetables, fruit
and, sometimes also meat from domestic animals – are sold at reasonable prices. And
thousands of people shop there rather than in supermarkets.
It is not only in China that wildlife markets have provided the ideal conditions for viruses and
other pathogens to cross the species barrier and transfer from animal hosts to us. There are
markets of this sort in many Asian countries. In the bushmeat markets of Africa – where live and
dead animals are sold for food – the hunting, slaughtering and selling of chimpanzees for food
led to two spill overs from ape to human that resulted in the HIV-AIDS pandemic. Ebola is
another zoonotic disease which crosses from animal reservoirs into apes and humans in
different parts of Africa.
Another major concern is the trafficking of wild animals and their body parts around the world.
Unfortunately, this has become a highly lucrative multi-billion-dollar business, often run by
criminal cartels. Not only is it very cruel and definitely contributing to the terrifying extinction
of species, but it may also lead to conditions suitable for the emergence of zoonotic diseases.
Wild animals or their parts exported, often illegally, from one country to another take their
viruses with them.
The shocking pet trade in young wild monkeys and apes, birds, reptiles and other wild animals
is another area of concern. A bite or scratch from a wild animal taken into the home could lead
to something much more serious than a mild infection.
Once COVID-19 was recognised as a new zoonotic disease, the Chinese authorities imposed a
ban on the selling and eating of wild animals, the Wuhan wildlife market was closed down, and
the farming of wild animals for food was forbidden.
There are thousands of small operations throughout Asia and other parts of the world where
wild animals are bred for food as a way of making a living in rural areas. Unless alternative
sources of income for these people, as well as for others exploiting wildlife to make a living, can
be found and they can get help from their governments during their transition to other ways of
making money, it is likely that these operations will be driven underground and become even
more difficult to regulate.
Nevertheless, whatever the problems, it is clearly of great importance that the ban on trading,
eating and breeding of wild animals for food should be permanent and enforced – for the sake
of human health and the prevention of other pandemics in the future. Fortunately a majority of
Chinese and other Asian citizens who responded to surveys agree that wildlife should not be
consumed, used in medicine or for their fur.
The use of some wild animal products for traditional medicine is thus far still legal in China
(though rhino horn and tiger bones are banned). And this creates a loophole that will be quickly
seized on by those wanting to continue to trade in wild animals such as the highly endangered
pangolin, rhinos, tigers and the Asiatic black bear, known commonly as the Moon Bear because
of the crescent-shaped white marking on its chest.
Other Asian bears – brown bears and Sun bears – are also exploited for their bile. And so long as
farming bears for their bile is legal, and a product containing their bile is promoted, this will
stimulate the demand for the bile.
It is important to consider the welfare of the animals who are unwittingly responsible for
zoonotic diseases. Today we know that all the animals mentioned are sentient beings, capable
of knowing fear, despair and pain. Moreover, many of them demonstrate extraordinary
intelligence. Allowing the use of wildlife trading for medicinal purposes can lead to unbelievably
inhumane treatment of some of these sentient beings.
This is most certainly the case, for example, with bears farmed for their bile in Asia. They may
be kept for up to thirty years in extremely small cages – sometimes they cannot even stand up
or turn around. The tiny cages prohibit all natural behaviour for these intelligent and sentient
animals, who endure a life of fear and suffering.
The bile is usually extracted, once or even twice a day, by inserting a catheter, pipe or syringe
into the gall bladder, – a highly intrusive and painful procedure. The bears suffer from
dehydration, starvation and a variety of infections and diseases. They develop liver cancer
(caused by the bile extraction), tumours, ulcers, blindness, peritonitis, arthritis and other
ailments. Their teeth are worn down or missing from continually, in desperation, gnawing at
the bars that imprison them.
Not only is farming bears in this way extremely cruel, it is also of concern for public health
reasons. Poor hygienic conditions, the permanent open wounds of the bears, contamination of
bile with faeces, bacteria, blood and other bodily fluids are reasons for serious concern. Finally,
many of the bears are continuously given antibiotics to keep them alive and this contributes to
antibiotic resistance and the emergence of superbugs, resistant to most known antibiotics. The
same is true with the raising of domestic animals in factory farms. These superbugs have led to
the death of many patients in hospitals around the world.
Unfortunately, Tan Re Qing, a product that contains bile taken from Asiatic black bears and said
to be helpful in alleviating symptoms linked to respiratory infections, is being recommended as
a treatment for patients infected with COVID-19. And this will encourage the continued
practice of bear bile farming.
To end on a note of hope, the active component of bear bile, ursodeoxycholic acid or UDCA, has
been available as a synthetic variant for many years, and is a fraction of the cost of bile
inhumanely harvested from bears. Unfortunately many people consider bile from wild bears to
be more valuable. Traditional Chinese Medicine has great value but, even if the bile from wild
bears was a valuable drug, given the cruelty and the risk involved it should no longer be used –
especially as the synthetic product has the same properties. In fact, a survey conducted by
Animals Asia in 2011 indicated that 87% of Chinese respondents were in favour of banning bear
bile farming, and hundreds of Chinese pharmacies have pledged never to sell bear bile
It would be wonderful if all bear bile farms across Asia could be closed and the bears released
into those sanctuaries which have been created in China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Laos. There
they would be able to walk on grass, climb, bathe in ponds and enjoy the sunshine and the
company of other rescued bears. And a decrease in the demand for pangolin scales and rhino
horn in many Asian countries for their supposed medicinal value would give a chance for these
highly endangered animals to survive into the future. As would a ban on the farming of wild
animals for their fur.
It is not only from wild animals that zoonotic diseases have originated. The inhumane
conditions of the great factory farms, where large numbers of domestic animals are crowded
together, has also provided conditions conducive to viruses spilling over into humans. The
diseases commonly known as ‘bird flu’ and ‘swine flu’ resulted from handling poultry and pigs.
And domestic animals are also sentient beings who experience fear and pain. MERS originated
from contact with domestic dromedary camels in the Middle East, perhaps from consuming
products from infected camels such as undercooked meat or milk.
Scientists warn that if we continue to ignore the causes of these zoonotic diseases, we may be
infected with viruses that cause pandemics even more disruptive than COVID-19. Many people
believe that we have come to a turning point in our relationship with the natural world. We
need to halt deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats around the globe. We need
to make use of existing nature-friendly, organic alternatives, and develop new ones, to feed
ourselves and to maintain our health. We need to eliminate poverty so that people can find
alternative ways to make a living other than by hunting and selling wild animals and destroying
the environment. We need to assure that local people, whose lives directly depend on and are
impacted by the health of the environment, own and drive good conservation decisions in their
own communities as they work to improve their lives. Finally, we need to connect our brains
with our hearts and appropriately use our indigenous knowledge, science and innovative
technologies to make wiser decisions about people, animals and our shared environment.
While there is a justified focus on bringing COVID-19 under control, we must not forget the
crisis with potentially long-term catastrophic effects on the planet and future generations – the
climate crisis. The movement calling for industry and governments to impose restrictions on the
emission of greenhouse gases, to protect forests, and clean up the oceans, has been growing.
This pandemic has forced industry to temporarily shut down in many parts of the world. As a
result, many people have for the first time experienced the pleasure of breathing clean air and seeing the stars in the night sky.
My hope is that an understanding of how the world should be, along with the realisation that it
is our disrespect of the natural world that has led to the current pandemic, will encourage
businesses and governments to put more resources into developing clean, renewable energy,
alleviate poverty and help people find alternative ways of making a living that do not involve
the exploitation of nature and animals.
Let us realise we are part of, and depend upon, the natural world for food, water and clean air.
Let us recognize that the health of people, animals and the environment are connected. Let us
show respect for each other, for the other sentient animals, and for Mother Nature. For the
sake of the wellbeing of our children and theirs, and for the health of this beautiful planet
Earth, our only home.
Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE
Founder – the Jane Goodall Institute
& UN Messenger of Peace

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