CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

Wildlife trade a threat to humans

Over 70% of emerging infections are estimated to be from wild animals in particular.

In Summary
  • A permanent ban on wildlife trade in China and other counties the only foolproof way to help prevent future outbreaks.
  • Not only will this help prevent animals from suffering needlessly, it will also stop this unnecessary human death toll.
A mother helps her son to put on a face mask at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, following the outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, in Sepang, Malaysia, February 4, 2020.
OUTBREAK: A mother helps her son to put on a face mask at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, following the outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, in Sepang, Malaysia, February 4, 2020.
Image: REUTERS

Misinformation and conspiracy theories are undermining the World Health Organisation’s response to the outbreak of coronavirus. With the death toll having surpassed that of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) global epidemic in 2002-2003, there is ongoing speculation about where the virus originated from.

So far bats, snakes, and now the critically endangered Chinese pangolin; wildlife all traded at a live animal market in Wuhan, China, have been implicated as culprits.

Understanding what has caused this global outbreak is crucial if we are to prevent it from happening again. And, while debate rages between experts on the validity of the scientific evidence underpinning these claims, the source will no doubt be revealed in time. Regardless of which wild animal is at the source, the threat that the wildlife trade poses to global human health is very concerning.

To prevent the spread of coronavirus, the WHO is advising “general hygiene measures when visiting live animal markets, wet markets or animal product markets, and to avoid the consumption of raw and undercooked animal products.” More than 70 per cent of emerging infections in humans are estimated to have come from animals, particularly wild animals.

Most people probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that illegal trade in wildlife involves poor hygiene and countless sick or dead animals that can pose a risk to human health. But these problems are all too common in the legal wildlife trade too, with a lack of proper biosecurity measures an all too common affair. Those precautions should be paramount to prevent the spread of disease.

A recent discovery of more than 300 dead parrots on the premises of a facility owned by the former vice chairperson of the Parrot Breeders Association of South Africa, showed “dirty and parasitic conditions.” It was described by authorities as “a horrific scene” and is sadly a gruesome case in point.

Although this is clearly an extreme case of neglect, the reality is that keeping high numbers of animals, in close proximity to each other, in poor welfare conditions, all in the name of profit, in itself poses a risky and unnecessary threat to human health.

This is undoubtedly why China has taken the commendable and courageous decision to impose a temporary nationwide ban on all wildlife trade. It is critical that this is a blanket approach, irrespective of the species, wild or captive-bred, what it will be used for, or where it will be sold. The threat is real.

No matter which wild animal (if any) is proven to have been the origin, a permanent ban on wildlife trade in China and other counties across the globe is logically the only foolproof way to help prevent future outbreaks. Not only will this help prevent animals from suffering needlessly, it will also stop this unnecessary human death toll.

Wildlife Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection, Africa