Wuhan, China – Arriving at the gate to the Hubei Wildlife Rescue Centre on the east side of the Chinese city of Wuhan near its famous lakes, you can hear the continuous squawking of birds and a cacophony of noises from the other animals inside.
On the building to the left of the gate a sign prominently advertises the centre’s affiliation with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), one of two biosecurity laboratories in the city that have been thrust into the spotlight, in an increasingly fractious debate over the origin of COVID-19 – a virus that has now killed more than 4.47 million people around the world.
According to documentation from the centre, it houses several veterinary clinics, monkey facilities, pens for amphibians and reptiles, wildlife breeding facilities and an animal hospital. Netting to keep birds and other animals from escaping is visible along the fence.
The rescue centre, in a hilly area in the Hongshan district, is next door to a private zoo, Jiufeng Forest Zoo, which was shut the day before Wuhan was locked down in January 2020 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
More than 18 months later, as G7 leaders call for “a transparent, evidence-based and expert-led World Health Organization or WHO-convened phase 2 study on the origins of COVID-19, that is free from interference” and intelligence services in the United States reveal their findings on the origins of the virus, it remains unclear as to whether the wildlife centre or the zoo were ever questioned as part of investigations into how the disease emerged into the world.