“They take exotic animals, like civets, porcupines, pangolins, raccoon dogs and bamboo rats, and they breed them in captivity,” says Daszak.
The agency is expected to release the team’s investigative findings in the next two weeks. In the meantime, Daszak gave NPR a highlight of what the team figured out.
“China promoted the farming of wildlife as a way to alleviate rural populations out of poverty,” Daszak says. The farms helped the government meet ambitious goals of closing the rural-urban divide, as NPR reported last year.
“It was very successful,” Daszak says. “In 2016, they had 14 million people employed in wildlife farms, and it was a $70 billion industry.”
Then on Feb. 24, 2020, right when the outbreak in Wuhan was winding down, the Chinese government made a complete about-face about the farms.
“What China did then was very important,” Daszak says. “They put out a declaration saying that they were going to stop the farming of wildlife for food.”
The government shut down the farms. “They sent out instructions to the farmers about how to safely dispose of the animals — to bury, kill or burn them — in a way that didn’t spread disease.”
Why would the government do this? Because, Daszak thinks, these farms could be the spot of spillover, where the coronavirus jumped from a bat into another animal and then into people. “I do think that SARS-CoV-2 first got into people in South China. It’s looking that way.”