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China Vowed to Keep Wildlife Off the Menu, a Tough Promise to Keep

The government has moved slowly to permanently stop the sale and consumption of wild animals in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, raising fears the practice may continue.

Bamboo rats lifted Mao Zuqin out of poverty. Now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, poverty threatens again.

Mr. Mao has over the past five years built a viable farm in southern China with 1,100 bamboo rats, a chubby, edible rodent that is a delicacy in the region. Then, in February, China’s government suspended the sale and consumption of wildlife, farmed or captured, abruptly freezing a trade identified as the likely source of the outbreak.

He still has to feed them, though, and has no way to cover his costs or his investments.

“I’m up to my ears in debt,” he said.

China has been lauded for suspending the wildlife trade, but the move has left millions of workers like Mr. Mao in the lurch. Their economic fate, along with major loopholes in the government’s restrictions, are threatening to undermine China’s pledge to impose a permanent ban.

China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, adjourned its annual session late last month without adopting new laws that would end the trade. Instead, the congress issued a directive to study the enforcement of current rules as it drafts legislation, a process that could take a year or more.

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