With top experts in China saying wild animals were the source of the new deadly coronavirus coming out of Wuhan, searches for certain animals are disappearing on Chinese ecommerce and restaurant platforms.

Although the sale of wild animal meat without a license has long been illegal, many merchants still fly under the radar, selling popular wild game online. But now anyone looking for some obscure meat could have a hard time with their search.

Searches for masked palm civet return no results across Taobao, Suning and Pinduoduo. On JD.com, the keyword isn’t banned, but the results are only books on how to tame them. (Picture: Alibaba/JD/Suning/Pinduoduo)

Ecommerce sites like Taobao, Pinduoduo and Suning no longer show any results for searches related to many animals, including badgers, musk deer and masked palm civet. The World Health Organization believes civets could have been an intermediate for the coronavirus between bats and humans. Restaurant and delivery apps such as Ele.me and Meituan Dianping have also seemingly started cracking down on these searches.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Ele.me owner Alibaba.)

JD.com is removing results, too. The site confirmed to us that it is following "relevant national laws and regulations" by removing wild animals and related products with higher health risks.

Typically, only merchants with specific qualifications are allowed to sell the raw meat of “wild animals,” which actually refers to certain types of farm-bred animals in China. According to Taobao’s policy, for example, qualified merchants can sell raw meat or other meat products from species that include sika deer, ostriches and Nile crocodiles. But the meat has to come from animals bred on a farm. Selling live species is forbidden.

If you search for raw crocodile meat, you can still purchase it on JD.com. But the keyword is disabled on some other platforms. (Picture: Taobao/JD/Suning/Pinduoduo)

Prior to the outbreak, mainstream Chinese ecommerce platforms all had similar guidelines regarding the sale of animals. But those guidelines were primarily focused on nationally protected species, not other wild animals, according to state-owned media outlet The Paper.

But then the coronavirus was linked to a market selling wild animals. George Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the center found ample evidence that the virus first appeared at shops selling illicit wild game in Wuhan. Epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan also said the new virus likely originated in wild animals in Wuhan.

We reached out to Alibaba, Taobao, Pinduoduo, Suning and Meituan about their response to the news, but none immediately responded. But responses to The Paper suggest the platforms were quick to react, as tech companies were with other things related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Suning told The Paper that it immediately examined and removed all products considered wild game. Alibaba said it banned up to 30,000 protected or illicit species from its platforms. Both Meituan and Ele.me also said that they cracked down on all products that could be considered wild game. 

China has since issued a number of emergency measures aimed at controlling the sale of wild animals. Authorities are quarantining farms that breed animals like badgers and Chinese bamboo rats.