Wuhan facilities shed light on China’s oversight on wildlife use

Arriving at the gate to the Hubei Wildlife Rescue Centre on the east side of the Chinese city of Wuhan near its famous lakes, you can hear the continuous squawking of birds and a cacophony of noises from the other animals inside.

On the building to the left of the gate a sign prominently advertises the centre’s affiliation with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), one of two biosecurity laboratories in the city that have been thrust into the spotlight, in an increasingly fractious debate over the origin of COVID-19 – a virus that has now killed more than 4.47 million people around the world.

Repeated requests since March to representatives of the Jiufeng Forest Zoo and the companies connected to it – the Hubei Wildlife Rescue Centre, the Wuhan Institute of Virology [WIV], the provincial forestry bureau and forestry university – for further information about activities at these two facilities, which are on property owned and overseen by the Hubei Forestry Bureau and the Hubei Forestry University were declined.

While there is no known link between the COVID-19 outbreak and the Hubei Wildlife Rescue Centre, the failure of authorities to explain its connections to the WIV, what research was being conducted there and on what animals, as well as its relationship with the Jiufeng Forest Zoo next door, raises questions about its wildlife utilisation practices and potential conflicts of interest related to the investigation into the origins of the outbreak.

Scrutinising the links

The wildlife rescue centre has partnered with WIV on research into zoonotic viruses since 2013, and has a history of promoting the use of wildlife and breeding hybrids of wild animals. More than 200,000 wild animals from 89 different species have been housed at the facility or passed through its gates since it opened in 2000, according to its website.

Kristian Andersen, an infectious disease expert at the United States’ Scripps Research Institute, who believes that the Huanan seafood market and other markets in Wuhan were the most likely source for both the original outbreak and its later amplification, says there needs to be a broader understanding of what was going on in Wuhan in the autumn of 2019 related to wildlife use.

Related Articles

Back to top button