TORONTO, June 5, 2003 - As Canada braces for a renewed assault on SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the important information about the connection with China’s wildlife markets needs to be carefully considered and acted on says The Humane Society of Canada (HSC). Researchers at the University of Hong Kong found SARS antibodies in the blood of five wildlife butchers at the Dongmen Market who handled and killed exotic animals, supporting the theory that the disease jumped from animals to humans according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

"We need to learn from other people’s mistakes," says HSC Western Regional Director, Al Hickey. "We are calling on every community across Canada to make certain that they enforce public health legislation which outlaws markets that sell live animals for slaughter. This measure is in the interests of public health and animal welfare." The organization is sending a letter to The Federation of Canadian Municipalities asking for their help in making information available to cities, towns and villages.

"It appears that a wild animal market in southern China is at the centre of the SARS outbreak. This market, and others like it, has domestic and wild animals, many of whom are endangered, crammed into crates, cages, tubs and other containers in deplorable, unsanitary conditions. This is an example of Mother Nature biting back," said HSC Executive Director, Michael O'Sullivan.

In light of the SARS epidemic, wildlife officials in China have raided thousands of markets, restaurants and kitchens and confiscated thousands of wild animals, banned the trade in wildlife and travelling animal shows have been ordered to cancel their performances. More information updates on the SARS Wildlife Connection can be found here.

"Doing the right thing, is often the smartest thing," he said. O’Sullivan who has travelled extensively across Canada and around the world says there is nothing more depressing and unhealthy than markets which sell live animals for food: "These places are a biological time bomb waiting to go off," he said.

The SARS disease has been found in the endangered masked palm civet, a relative of the mongoose. It has also been found in the Raccoon dog and the Chinese ferret badger. Genetic studies have shown that the SARS virus is a coronavirus, genetically identical to coronaviruses found in bats, monkeys, civet and snakes. However, scientists are still trying to determine how the disease jumped the species boundary.

There is no evidence that SARS can be transmitted to or from pets, such as dogs and cats. No animal has yet died of the equivalent SARS-like coronavirus. The Humane Society of Canada is also concerned over the number of pets in China that have been abandoned or killed since SARS hit and is asking pet owners and officials to treat animals humanely and not overreact to unsubstantiated fears.

"Zoonoses, animal diseases capable of spreading from animals to humans, such as avian flu, influenza, tuberculosis, rabies, salmonella and CJD are a fact of life and with the way our species treats animals and the environment they will become much larger and more serious problems unless we learn from our mistakes," warns O’Sullivan.

Many of these zoonotic diseases are density dependent and similar outbreaks can occur whenever animals are gathered in large numbers. Keeping and slaughtering, often inhumanely, large numbers of animals in cramped, unsanitary conditions, with no thought to the well-being of the animal is not only cruel to animals, but also puts human health and the environment at risk.

Backgrounder: The SARS Wildlife Connection

CONTACT: Al Hickey or Michael O'Sullivan by toll free 1-800-641-KIND or Michael on his cell phone (416) 876-9685 or at www.humanesociety.com.

[For more than 17 years, Al Hickey was the Chief Executive of the BC SPCA and before that headed up the Alberta and BC Chambers of Commerce, and the Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vancouver. He has 6 grandchildren.

A father with two small children, and a houseful of dogs and cats, O'Sullivan has worked in Canada and in over 100 countries during the last 40 years helping people, animals and nature.]

The Humane Society works to protect dogs, cats, rabbits and other small animals, horses, birds, livestock, lab animals, wildlife and the environment. They carry out hands on programs to help animals and nature, mount rescue operations, expose cruelty through hard hitting undercover investigations, work to pass laws to protect animals, support animal shelters and wildlife rehabilitation centres and spread the word about how to help animals and nature through humane education.