SHANGHAI: China has added 517 species to its list of major protected wild animals, part of its campaign in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to end the wild animal trade and destruction of habitats.
A joint statement on Friday (Feb 5) by the forestry and agriculture ministries said adjusting the list had become "extremely urgent" because of recent changes in China's wildlife situation. A total of 980 wild animals are now under state protection.
The ministries promised to work with local governments to identify and protect the habitats of the animals added to the list, which include the endangered large-spotted civet and several species of birds that have dwindled in number in recent years.
Those who hunt and traffic the animals face fines and even custodial sentences for "level one" protected species, such as the critically endangered panda, pangolin and Yangtze finless porpoise.
China has been trying to crack down on the wildlife trade since January 2020, after the first cases of COVID-19 were linked to a seafood market in the central city of Wuhan that was known to sell exotic animal species.
Scientists speculate that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could have crossed into humans from bats through an intermediary species, with pangolins often identified as a potential candidate.
China has also promised to step up efforts to protect forests and wetlands, and to seal off nature reserves behind "ecological protection red lines" in a bid to reduce human exposure to virus spillovers.
China's parliament announced plans to implement a permanent nationwide ban on wildlife trade and trafficking in February, though it left big loopholes for the captive breeding of animals traded for fur or used in traditional Chinese medicine.
In the first nine months of 2020, China prosecuted more than 15,000 people for wildlife crimes, up 66per cent from the same period a year earlier, state prosecutors said.