Organizations plead for wildlife market closures

By Laura Bies

Pangolins are one of the most widely traded mammals worldwide, and have been suspected of facilitating the emergence of the virus that causes COVID-19. ©Sarita Jnawali/NTNC – Central Zoo

Amidst concern about the current coronavirus pandemic, which was likely linked to live wildlife markets, more than 240 organizations from around the world joined together last week, urging the World Health Organization to ban wildlife markets and more tightly control wildlife trade.

In the letter, the organizations note that over half of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, with up to 70% of them originating in wild species. Each year, zoonotic diseases infect more than two billion people and cause more than two million fatalities around the globe. “While a robust global response is critical in detecting, treating and reducing transmission, it is equally necessary to take vital measures to prevent similar emerging infectious diseases developing into pandemics with the associated threats to human life, and social and economic well-being,” the letter read. 

Environmental organizations, conservation groups, and zoological societies, among others signed the letter asking the WHO to recommend governments around the world place a permanent ban on live wildlife markets and stricter limits on wildlife trade to address the potential risks to human health.

They also request that the WHO bans the use of wildlife as “traditional medicine.” The letter further encourages the WHO to coordinate with the World Trade Organization, World Organization for Animal Health and other organizations worldwide to raise awareness regarding the risks of wildlife trade to public health, social cohesion, economic stability, law and order, and individual health, and support programs to provide alternative protein sources to subsistence consumers of wild animals.

Legislators in the United States expressed similar concerns, with 64 Senators and Representatives writing to the World Health Organization, World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, asking for “aggressive action toward a global shut down of live wildlife markets and a ban on the international trade of live wildlife that is not intended for conservation purposes.”

After the COVID-19 outbreak began, China imposed a ban on wildlife trade and live wildlife markets. However, the trade of wildlife for non-food purposes, such as traditional medicine, while regulated, would not be banned.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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