Coronavirus Trade Ban Sees Frozen Eagles, Leopard Cats, Raccoons and Squirrels Due to Be Sold As Meat Seized in China

Authorities have seized hundreds of frozen carcasses, including raccoons and leopard cats, from a refrigerator facility in Pingguo, southeast China, over fears the illegal meat could be harboring diseases akin to the coronavirus.

Last week's raid is one of the latest actions taken during the government's crackdown on the sale of unregulated meat, after a temporary ban was placed on the wildlife trade in January.

According to AsiaWire, the contraband goods were sold online, primarily via Chinese social media platform WeChat. Police believe the operation was conducted by a female suspect, surname Huang, who is currently being held in custody.

Huang's arrest followed a raid on refrigeration facilities on January 31, which uncovered hundreds of carcasses, including: two leopard cats, three eagles, three pheasants, 48 raccoons, 30 squirrels and 250 birds.

Police told reporters the suspect had been trading in frozen wildlife for "an extended period of time," and has admitted to purchasing, freezing and selling exotic meat.

"She also created a WeChat chat group, access to which was granted to loyal customers," said police officer Tan Chunmao, AsiaWire reports.

Meat Market, Beijing
A customer wearing a protective mask buys meat at a market in Beijing on January 23, 2020. Hundreds of frozen animal carcasses have been seized in a raid after Chinese authorities promise to crack down on unregulated meat trade. NOEL CELIS / AFP/Getty

The operation follows a temporary ban introduced by the Chinese government, prohibiting the sale of wild animals until a nationwide epidemic of the new coronavirus has subsided—though conservationists are pushing to make the measure more permanent for animal welfare reasons as well as public health, the BBC reported.

The ban preventing wildlife being transported or traded online or in-person is intended to prevent the spread of new diseases by removing a channel for transmission. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 75 percent of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning they spread to humans from animals.

The decision to "resolutely ban and severely crack down" on the trade comes after scientists traced the spread of the mystery illness to a seafood market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, where live animals were being sold.

Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the U.K.'s Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia, previously told Newsweek that aerosols produced in the handling of live animals and in the butchery/food preparation process are possible routes of transmission.

While the origin of the Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is unconfirmed, many experts cite bats as the most likely source. The animals have already been linked to more than 200 viruses, including SARS and Ebola.

Since the outbreak began, more than 20,000 people have been infected with the virus and more than 400 have died. According to the CDC, 11 people have tested positive in the U.S. in the states of Arizona, California, Illinois and Massachusetts and Washington