What’s the next pandemic if you consume civet products?
Animals, especially wild animals, are hosts to many different bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause diseases, a lot of which can infect humans, and can even cause pandemics. Those diseases are scientifically known as Zoonoses. Zoonoses are very popular among humans; scientists estimate that 6 out of 10 diseases found on humans originated from other animals, and for every 4 newly discovered diseases, 3 are from other animals, especially wild animals.
Like other wild animals, civets are hosts to many zoonoses that have a potential to transfer to humans. The SARS epidemic in China and neighboring countries in 2002 originated from a strain of coronavirus in the Chinese Rufous Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus sinicus), which consequently infected the Masked Palm Civet (Paguma larvata) and then transferred to humans. Additionally, the Owston’s Civet (Chrotogale owstoni) carries with them A-virus H5N1, causing chickenpox which has many times wrought havoc in many countries, including Vietnam. Other notable diseases from civets include rabies and other parasites such as roundworms, fungi, ticks, etc.
The cramped and dank living condition on civet farms is the ideal condition for diseases to spread. When civets are kept in very close proximity, one sick civet can infect tens or even hundreds of others. In a survey in Đắk Lắk and Lâm Đồng provinces, in one farm, there was a mass die-off of 200 civet individuals at a time, due to an unknown disease. This shows that, even with permission to operate, hygienic and medical conditions at these farms are not at all adequate, shrouding potentially deadly pandemic behind the scenes.
There have been a myriad of devastating epidemics that originate from wild animals, one of the more notable of which is COVID-19, a global pandemic that has caused more than 4.7 million deaths at the time of writing. The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 is still unconfirmed as of now, but the vast majority of evidence points to wild animals, particularly the Intermediate horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus affinis), and the Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica). Another deadly disease is HIV/AIDS, originating from the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), which has caused 36.3 million deaths globally as of 2020.
When pandemics break out, aside from devastating impacts on humans, innocent animals also have to suffer. In early 2004, as an attempt to combat against the SARS epidemic, the Guangzhou authorities in China created the campaign to slaughter all civets in the province, causing the death of more than 10,000 of different animals. This could have dealt a heavy toll on the population of wild civets, when they themselves are at risk of extinction. Similar actions when another pandemic arrives could be the end of wild civets.