Vietnam’s prime minister has issued a directive that will ban most wildlife imports into the country and crack down on the illegal wildlife trade there.
The directive from Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, which will go into effect immediately, comes in response to concerns about the reported close link between pandemic diseases, like COVID-19, and the wildlife trade. It also directs government agencies to step up their efforts to stop the illegal hunting, consuming, buying and selling of wild animals, including online sales.
The ban, however, does not prohibit the domestic trade in wildlife, nor does it shut down legal wildlife markets, particularly those selling mammal and bird species that are known to contract coronaviruses. If Vietnam is to truly address the threat of a global pandemic, it needs to end these practices too.
Vietnam has long been on our radar as one of the world’s most voracious consumers of wild animals, including endangered species such as cobra, turtle and pangolin, as well as monkeys, birds and other unprotected species. These animals can easily be bought in markets, from street vendors and even outside national parks. The nation is also a key transit and destination country for elephant ivory, rhino horn and pangolin scales.
HSI has worked for years to end the consumption of imperiled wildlife species in Vietnam, through public education on the ground and by lobbying lawmakers. In February, we joined a coalition of organizations in sending a letter and recommendations to the prime minister’s office, urging the closure of wild animal markets and other vendors selling wildlife for human consumption. This was followed in April by an urgent plea to end the trade. We also shared with the prime minister’s office our science-based white paper to ban wildlife trade, transport and consumption—particularly mammal and bird species, which are known to contract coronaviruses.
Last month, in a promising move, the nation’s legislature ratified a free trade agreement with the European Union that supports the Vietnamese government’s efforts to curb the illegal wildlife trade.
We are happy that Vietnam has taken concerns about the link between pandemic diseases and the wildlife trade seriously. The world is in the grip of a pandemic that is believed to have originated in a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, and such markets have been also been implicated in the spread of several disease outbreaks in recent years, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), avian influenza or bird flu, Ebola and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
This is not just a public health issue, but also a significant animal welfare nightmare. Markets selling wildlife are filthy, crowded places where sick, injured and scared animals are displayed in small cages. Once purchased, they are often slaughtered on-site, creating a perfect breeding ground for transmission of disease from animals to humans. It is estimated that 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning they spread from animals to humans.
Public health officials, including the World Health Organization, agree that wildlife markets need to go. We applaud Vietnam for taking a step in the right direction, and urge other nations where these markets exist to act immediately to end them.