The novel coronavirus has once again drawn the attention of the Taiwanese people to the illicit eating of wild animals and bush meat. Forty years ago, wild animal and bush meat products were also rampant around the cities and countryside of Taiwan, and it was not hard to find wild meat products from endangered animals in restaurants and eateries. Through the promulgation of the Wildlife Conservation Act, as well as the many years of joint efforts by the government and civil society, the demand for the commercial hunting of wildlife has finally been effectively eased. Apart from the hunting activities of the Indigenous peoples in accordance with traditional customs, Taiwanese people have gradually stopped eating non-essential bush meat. Nevertheless, the government has continued to monitor the illegal commercial hunting of wildlife and conducts inspections from time to time, and suspected bush meat products of unknown origin in eateries or restaurants providing mountain-grown produce are the focus of investigation.
However, in the past, when conducting inspections of illegally sold wild animal meat products, it was often necessary to use expensive detection instruments, and it took a long time for laboratory professionals to screen out the animal species from which the meat is derived. The time constraint meant that illegal acts could not be effectively prevented. Therefore, the Forestry Bureau under the Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan, commissioned National Chiayi University to develop a rapid screening technology that can accurately detect whether the target meat is from a wild animal and identify its species within 20 minutes, greatly improving the timeliness and ease of operation. In the future, after the modularization of the identification method, it will be officially put into onsite operation to effectively combat illegal commercial wildlife hunting.
According to the Forestry Bureau, it was difficult during investigations in the past to visually identify the animal species of the meat, unless the fur, head, horns, limbs, or other identifiable parts remained attached to the meat. Most of the time, only polymerase chain reaction (PCR) nucleic acid amplification techniques could be used for detection. However, obtaining test results required using techniques that could only be operated by laboratory professionals, which is time-consuming and labor-intensive. In order to improve the identification timeframe and effectively combat crime, the Forestry Bureau commissioned a research team from National Chiayi University to base the test for bush meat products on wildlife that are more likely to appear on the market, such as Taiwan serow (capricornis swinhoei), masked palm civet (paguma larvata), Reeves's muntjac (muntiacus reevesi), Formosan rock macaque (macaca cyclopis), and pangolins. A special test strip was developed based on the recombinase polymerase amplification (RPA) technology, which is matched with reagents and maintained at a temperature of 37 - 42 degrees, and can show the identification results in about 20 minutes. The National Chiayi University research team also developed a set of tool modules and operating procedures for the test strips, allowing front-line personnel to carry out onsite rapid screening after passing the basic training. After testing, it has shown very good results. In order to check whether the above identification technique will produce false positives, the team has also mixed in general meat products, such as lamb, chicken, pork, beef, rabbit, tilapia, and ostrich, for testing. The results show that all of these products can be accurately screened and identified.
The Forestry Bureau emphasized that those who illegally trade in protected wildlife products may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than 6 months but less than 5 years, or fined between NT$300,000 to NT$1.5 million in accordance with Articles 35 and 40 of the Wildlife Conservation Act. Those who operate in wild animal product trade without a legal business license may be fined NT$60,000 to NT$300,000 in accordance with Articles 36 and 49 of the Wildlife Conservation Act.
The Forestry Bureau pointed out that the completion of the research and development of the rapid screening technology will provide a fast and accurate tool for investigators when dealing with cases on the front line, and will help to expose illegal traders of wild animal meat.