To prevent another pandemic, global leaders should crack down on wildlife trade

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on March 26, 2020 with 23 Comments

At the G20 coronavirus meeting today, global leaders, including President Trump, brainstormed on ways to control the pandemic that is now ravaging dozens of nations, leaving a vast trail of human casualties in its wake. But one thing that didn’t come up was the reason why we are in this predicament in the first place: the unchecked trade, transport and consumption of wildlife.

Scientists believe that the novel coronavirus originated in bats, who are natural hosts to coronaviruses and were also linked to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002. In that case the coronavirus was transmitted to palm civets—small, slender mammals with ferretlike faces—who were then sold at a wildlife market in Shenzhen, China. It is suspected that the current pandemic, traced to a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, may have originated in a similar way.

China has since been under pressure to permanently close its wildlife markets: open-air markets where butchers slaughter wild and domestic animals on site. Last month, the nation announced a ban on buying and selling wild animals for food. That ban has not yet been codified into law, and we hope the Chinese government will do so soon. We also hope the Chinese government will extend the ban to all wildlife trade, and not just animals used for food.

But it is not just China that needs to fix this problem. Wildlife trade, transport and consumption occurs in countries around the world, including the United States, and we need our leaders to agree to end these high-risk practices if we want to prevent another pandemic from sweeping the globe.

The United States also has a thriving exotic animal industry that often imports wild-caught species, including from China, and many facilities offer close encounters with wild animals that pose zoonotic disease risks. People buy exotic pets on a whim, then neglect the animal after they lose interest. Some unwanted exotic pets are turned loose where they pose a threat to native species. Many die prematurely due to improper care and many more die before even making it to the point of sale because of improper and grueling conditions during transport and grossly substandard conditions at dealer warehouses. Standard industry mortality rates at exotic animal wholesale facilities are as high as 70 percent due to poor sanitation, lack of food and water, improper temperatures, high stress levels, overcrowding and inhumane handling.

This is a serious animal welfare problem, by any measure. But it is also an extremely serious public health concern.

According to a 2007 article published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases that examined the risks posed by the wildlife trade and exotic pet industry, an estimated 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases among humans are zoonotic—meaning they are viral, bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections that spread between animals and people.

A familiar example of this is rabies, which can be transmitted between mammals. Other zoonotic diseases that have emerged from various parts of the world include Ebola, HIV, SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), all linked to contact with bushmeat (a term that encompasses meat from a range of wild animals, including chimpanzees hunted in tropical forests), civets and camels respectively. In a smart move, just last week, Malawi banned the sale and consumption of bushmeat.

In 2003, the United States experienced a monkeypox outbreak, caused when Gambian pouched rats imported from Africa transmitted the virus to prairie dogs who in turn transmitted the virus to people who obtained the animals as pets.

And we hear almost every year about E. coli and salmonella infections associated with petting zoos and county and state fairs.

Zoonotic disease risks work both ways. Measles as well as the virus that causes cold sores in people can be deadly to some primate species. And big cats and bears can suffer from canine distemper, which could be transferred from a person with an infected dog at home.

No matter how you look at it, plucking wild animals from their natural habitats and forcing them into lives of abuse and captivity causes more harm than good, both for animals and for people. The coronavirus crisis is a wakeup call to end all wildlife abuse wherever it exists. To truly prevent another global tragedy from ever recurring, we need our leaders to step up now and resolve to crack down on wildlife trade, transport and consumption with every tool at their disposal.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Humane Society International, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    Necesitamos detener el comercio de animalitos de vida silvestre y animalitos como perros y gatos generalmente todos los animalitos

  2. kelly hill says:

    The President, nobody is remotely talking discussing about the animals in CHINA, ect. Why are they afraid to, because I do not believe they are unawaure of the horrific torture the animals especilly the dogs/cats.

    • Zoe Cullum says:

      I have put pictures of the dogs and cats on facebook in petitions and people have unfriended me because its upsets them too much. this is part of the problem I think is that in the West we just don’t have the stomach to even deal with the issue….

      • Kathryn Irby says:

        That’s just plain crazy!!! They should be thinking about the welfare (or a lack thereof!) of those dogs and cats!!! Why would they unfriend you because you are trying to help these animals? Some people are so out in left field!

    • Sandra Unite says:

      Why hasn’t China made a statement of some sort to say what its future plans are.

    • Janet Garside says:

      They are dirty bastards 😠

    • Kathryn Irby says:

      Considering Trump, more than likely because the Almighty Dollar isn’t involved.

  3. Patrice schmitz says:

    Stop the trade of wildlife and endangered animals. It causes pain and strife to all concerned. And deaths.

  4. Janis keller says:

    We must stop killing wildlife and spreading disease!

  5. Karton Douglas says:

    Until the world starts to do something about the appalling animal torture that routinely happens everywhere, go Corona…far and wide, call it revenge of the animals

  6. Zoe Cullum says:

    I cannot believe the G20 Leaders did not discuss this. Why?

  7. Gina Albano says:

    Please put a stop to the sale of wild animals and bushmeat ( eating any wild animals, including feral cats & dogs). This Corona virus should be the last straw! We cannot fight another pandemic. Pear put an end to it now!

  8. William Hunter says:

    The habit of eating bush meat out of choice as opposed to survive and encouraging the horrific manner in which animals are killed makes me question if the evolution of the human species has stalled

  9. Ken McCullough says:

    Yes the US does it as well because we have certain people who will do anything for that mighty DOLLAR.

  10. Dani Dennenberg says:

    What are the addresses where we can send letters to demand an end to wet markets and sale/trade of wildlife in general? Please provide titles and addresses so we can organize an effort.

    Thank you!

  11. rtb says:

    We should not allow people into this country for those that practice eating bushmeat and wild animal market meat unless they endure a ample quarantine period. We don’t need another pandemic. What has not been mentioned here are ebola and AIDS. Once again AIDS is from bushmeat and ebola is suspected from similar origins.

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