2020-02-12 11:48:00

A children’s book published in the central Hubei province, the center of the COVID-19 epidemic, has been removed from shelves over content promoting the consumption and sale of wild animals.

The book’s publisher, Wuhan University Press, said Tuesday that it had notified all sales outlets nationwide to remove the book and launched an investigation into the matter. Earlier this week, a photo of a page from the book Animal Encyclopedia went viral on Chinese social media for referring to the masked palm civet as a “rare delicacy,” with many objecting to the potentially unsafe characterization.

“The civet is full of treasures; its meat can be eaten — it’s a rare ‘mountain delicacy’ which has a rich history in China,” read the page, which included a photo of a raccoon. “Its fat is a rare and advanced raw material used in cosmetics production and can also heal burns. Its fur can be used as leather gloves, and its tail and guard hair can be made into brushes.”

Sixth Tone’s repeated phone calls to the office of the editor-in-chief of Wuhan University Press went unanswered Wednesday. The office is responsible for reviewing all of its publications.

The content of the book, which was last published in 2017, has raised eyebrows, especially at a time when scientists are racing to find the source of the novel coronavirus that has killed more than 1,100 people and infected over 44,000 globally as of Tuesday. The virus is said to have originated at a meat and seafood market in Wuhan, and scientists have suggested that it could be linked to an animal sold there.

The masked palm civet is a protected species under Chinese law and is associated with the SARS epidemic of 2002-2003. The SARS coronavirus is believed to have been transmitted from bats to civet cats, and then to humans, in southern China’s Guangdong province.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, China has temporarily suspended the domestic trade of wild animals, though more experts are calling for a permanent ban on their consumption and sale.

On microblogging platform Weibo, many said they were shocked and angry over the “inappropriate statements” published in the children’s book, and a hashtag about the topic had been viewed over 260 million times by Wednesday evening.

“Publishers should be especially careful and responsible with children’s publications,” one Weibo user commented under a related media post. “A little carelessness will pass the wrong information to children, and this is not easy to correct.”

“It’s time for a change … all children’s publications in the country that introduce wild animals should be re-examined,” another Weibo user wrote. “The harmful consequences of consuming wild animals should be explained, and listing wild animals in the ‘mountain treasure’ category must be avoided. Our understanding (of wild animals) must evolve with time.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A photo of the page showing a raccoon while promoting the sale and consumption of civet cats, a known natural reservoir for infectious diseases. From @新京报 on Weibo)