China: Civet cat slaughter and the SARS virus
The authorities in Guangdong province in southern China have said that tens of thousands of the masked palm civet and related animals, such as raccoon dogs and Chinese ferret badgers, are likely to be slaughtered and they will close down all wild animal markets in the region.
They will also try to stop civets being brought in from neighbouring areas. But much of the trade in civets is already illegal and the WHO has warned the authorities about the dangers of driving the market further underground. They say that could be counterproductive in trying to contain SARS. Civets are regularly sold in live animal markets and are a prized dish in wildlife restaurants.
They are also believed to have medicinal properties. Trade in the mammal, which has a body like a cat, long legs, a long tail and a pointed snout, was banned last April amid sweeping efforts to stop the spread of SARS. That prohibition was lifted in August despite warnings by scientists that the animals might still be a health threat.
Traders reported, however, that the animal began disappearing from markets soon after scientists linked them with the SARS epidemic. Researchers said it was unlikely that diners could get SARS directly from eating the meat but added that it was more likely to pass to those people who bred or butchered the animals.