The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 disease first emerged at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Early cases of the infection were seen among those in contact with an animal market.
Researchers Shuchang Liu, from the School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, UK, along with Zheng Feei Ma, Department of Health and Environmental Sciences, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, China, Yutong Zhang and Yingfei Zhang from Jinzhou Medical University, China wanted to explore the current attitudes towards consuming exotic animals several months after the outbreak. Their study titled, “Attitudes towards Wildlife Consumption inside and outside Hubei Province, China, concerning the SARS and COVID-19 Outbreaks,” is published in the latest issue of the journal Human Ecology.
SARS and animals
In November 2002, there was an outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus infection in the Foshan municipality, Guangdong Province. The peak of the outbreak was seen in February 2003. SARS has been known to affect those who lived near animal markets and infected those who handled animals or were food practitioners.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak in December 2019 was traced back to the Huanan seafood market. Early cases were those who had visited the local fish and wildlife market before the outbreak. They had been exposed to wildlife such as “poultry, bats, marmots, hedgehogs, badgers, birds, and snakes,” wrote the researchers. Intermediate animal hosts were speculated to be bats or pangolins.
This study was conducted to see if there has been any change post-COVID in the attitude towards eating wildlife after the outbreaks.
This was a cross-sectional study conducted between 7 April 2020 and 20 April 2020. All adult non-pregnant individuals who were currently living either in or outside Hubei Province, China, willing to participate in the study, were included in the study.
A 20 question questionnaire was given to the participants. These had:
- 11 questions on basic socioeconomic information including gender, age, level of education, occupation, marital status, religion, and residential city
- Participants were asked if they were healthcare providers
- They were asked if they or their friends/relatives were currently diagnosed with COVID-19
- 5 questions were dedicated to SARS and COVID-19.
- Participants were asked their possible course of action if they saw someone hunting illegally.
- They were asked if they had ever eaten wildlife such as “palm civets, snakes, wild boar, frogs, monkeys, bats, or pangolins” during each of the outbreaks. Their reason for eating or not eating wildlife was also asked (taste, nutrition, novelty, social status, etc. for eating and dislike, law, wildlife protection, etc. for not eating)
- Participants were asked if their opinions regarding eating wildlife changed after the SARS outbreak
- Questions regarding if the participants considered palm civets to be carriers of SARS, and bats to be carriers of SARS-CoV-2 was also asked.
The questionnaire was distributed via WeChat, QQ, and Baidu Post Bar.
The study results were as follows:
- In the survey, a total of 348 adults took part, of which 177 were males
- The average age of the participants was 29.4 years. Over 95 percent were less than 50 years of age.
- Two-thirds of the participants resided in Hubei
- None of the study participants was currently diagnosed with COVID-19, and only two participants indicated that they had friends who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- During the SARS outbreak, the percentage of people consuming wildlife was 27 percent
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of participants consuming wildlife was 17.8 percent
- The most typical reasons provided by participants for eating wildlife was the novelty of the meat (among 64.9 percent during the SARS outbreak and 54.8 percent during the COVId-19 outbreak).
- The commonest reasons for never having eaten wild animal meat was dislike for the meat (47.7 percent during SARS and 39.9 percent during COVID-19)
- 52.5 percent reported that they had stopped eating wild animal meat because the law protected these species.
- The team found that educational level was significantly associated with wildlife consumption during the SARS and COVID-19 outbreaks.
- More than half of the participants thought that palm civets were carriers of SARS (53.7 percent), and 42.2 percent thought bats were carriers of SARS-CoV-2.
- In response to the question asking what they would do if they saw somebody hunting illegally, the response was as follows:
- 26.7 percent would definitely stop it
- 64.4 percent would try to stop it
- 8.9 percent would ignore it
The authors of the study conclude that their findings indicate that over a period of 17 years between the SARS outbreak and the COVID-19 outbreak, attitudes towards the consumption of wildlife in China changed for the better and changed significantly. They write, “At present, Chinese populations seem to be in favor of stopping wildlife consumption and fighting against illegal hunting. However, some people in China will likely continue to consume wildlife meat for many reasons, including believed health benefits.”