Melanie Verwoerd: The one thing we know for sure about the coronavirus

A passenger wearing a protective face mask walks, after arriving from Shenzhen in China, at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
A passenger wearing a protective face mask walks, after arriving from Shenzhen in China, at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
Phill Magakoe, AFP

So as if the coronavirus isn’t enough it now turns out that lion bones from South Africa might be poisoning or infecting the Chinese with TB, writes Melanie Verwoerd

Between all the uncertainty about COVID-19 (the coronavirus), there is one thing that we know for sure: it originated from the cruel and inhumane trade of live wild animals.  

I'm always amazed at the arrogance of humans. We seem to think that we can control and plunder nature and torture animals without any negative consequences to the human race. 

Yet, we are seeing how our disregard for our natural surroundings is raising the earth's temperature causing floods, fires and the rising of the sea levels.

Scientists keep telling us that we are about eight years away from a point of no return, and yet we take almost no notice.  

Companies continue to pollute in the chase for profit.

We use and discard plastic that ends up suffocating our oceans and killing off our fish.

We consume at a rate that will almost certainly make this earth uninhabitable for future generations and we either participate in or allow unthinkable cruelty to animals.  

The point is that there are consequences. 

I will never be able to understand the psychology of hunting - of looking something beautiful in the eye and then killing it deliberately. I cannot stand cruelty to animals – of any kind.  

However, even if you don’t agree with my feelings or beliefs about animals, the coronavirus has yet again proven that nature can and will hit back.  

We now have an outbreak that we don’t seem to understand or are able to control. 

A virus that moves fast and that can be as, if not more, deadly than any form of plague we have ever known - all because of the trade and consumption of wild animals.  

Even the Chinese government has recognised this and has now made it illegal to trade in wildlilfe. 

The ban imposed on 24 February 2020 by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (China's top legislature) covers all forms of wildlife consumption.

It is long overdue and hopefully it will last beyond this epidemic.  

Of course it is easy to think that this is all a Chinese story and that we as South Africans have no responsibility in it. Yet we do. 

According to TRAFFIC, between 2006 and 2015, almost 1.4-million live animals and plants, 1.5-million skins and two million kilograms of meat from CITES-listed species were exported from 41 African countries to 17 countries in East and Southeast Asia.

South Africa proved to be the largest seller of live birds, mammals and plants. 

The lion bone industry is another example.

This is a truly disgraceful industry that is directly condoned by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

In 2017, the then Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, controversially, and in the face of vociferous opposition against this trade, set the annual export quota at 800 lion skeletons.

Then in 2018 Molewa, without stakeholder participation, took the decision to almost double the quota to 1 500 skeletons. 

The department would like us to believe that this is all part of "sustainable use" and even good for the lions' protection.

I think even a three-year-old would be able to grasp that breeding lions in captivity, keeping them in crowded cages and then killing them is not good for lions.  

However, it now seems, that we (humans) are also now… well, shooting ourselves in the foot.  

As Don Pinnock recently highlighted in an article on the lion bone trade, it turns out that these bones might carry high levels of TB and could be infused with dangerous tranquilisers used to pacify the animals before they’re shot.  

Veterinary scientists are warning that this could have serious health consequences for those in Asia who consume these bones.  

So as if the coronavirus isn’t enough it now turns out that lion bones from South Africa might be poisoning or infecting the Chinese with TB.  

The Chinese government's ban will stop the export of bones to China, but these bones also find their way to Vietnam, Korea and other Asian countries.  

According to Pinnock, both the Ministers of Health and Agriculture have been made aware of the potential danger, yet neither have responded.  

I certainly hope that Minister Pandor will also be informed of this, since this could potentially become a huge international scandal for South Africa.  

Those who profit handsomely from this horrible industry, will claim that they are not breaking any laws.

Possible poisonings aside, that might be true, but let's be clear that there is a bigger issue at stake here. 

The contemptuous way China has treated wildlife has resulted in thousands of deaths.

Corona will without doubt spread around the world including South Africa and thousands more will die globally.  

So even if not all of us care about animals, we should for the sake of humankind, insist on the banning of all wildlife trade immediately.  

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland


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