The independent calls today for an international effort to create tighter restrictions on the wildlife and wildlife trade to reduce our risk of future pandemics.
The link between wildlife markets and threats to human health has been proven and, as we are seeing with the coronavirus pandemic, can cause acute suffering worldwide. To date, more than 1.5 million people have been infected with the disease and the death toll has now exceeded 100,000.
The epidemic is said to have originated in a “wet” market in Wuhan, China, where exotic animals were sold, and made the leap to humans from animals kept nearby.
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This is a global problem: a study from last year found that one in five vertebrate species is marketed as a pet or used as a product in countries around the world, putting almost 9,000 species in danger of extinction.
With the UN Chief of Biodiversity, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, and the acclaimed United Nations conservationist and “messenger of peace”, Dr. Jane Goodall DBE, The Independent’s calls on governments to work together to impose tighter controls on the trade, sale and consumption of wild animals.
Dr. Goodall said The independent: “Animals, like us, are sensitive. They may feel fear and hopelessness. They have personalities and are incredibly intelligent.
“We have to respect the natural world. We cannot continue to use natural resources indefinitely for economic development on a planet with limited natural resources.
“If we continue to treat animals as we are, it will retaliate, as it did.”
Write for The independent, Ms. Mrema said, “The global wildlife trade and live animal markets, where live fish, meat and wildlife are sold, are important risk factors for the spread of zoonoses. As a result, measures taken by countries to reduce the number of live animals on food markets can significantly reduce the risk of disease outbreaks. Tighter controls on the sale and consumption of wildlife and the implementation of the International Health Regulations also need to be extended globally. “
Some 241 animal conservation and welfare groups have asked leaders of the World Health Organization to take action for “a permanent global ban on wildlife markets and a very cautious approach to wildlife trade.”
We have been here before: previous zoonotic diseases, those transmitted from animals to humans, have been linked to wildlife, including HIV, Ebola, Sars, Mers and Zika.
During the Sars epidemic in 2003, China killed tens of thousands of civets, the animal from which the virus was suspected to originate, and put in place wildlife bans. However, these restrictions were short-lived and in the following years the wildlife trade rebounded.
China issued a permanent wildlife trade ban in February. This week, a group of bipartisan American lawmakers warned that the ban has loopholes – for the wildlife trade for medical and research purposes – and needs to be tightened.
Zoonoses are responsible for 2.5 billion cases of human disease and 2.7 million deaths each year worldwide.
In The independent last month, environmentalists warned that the coronavirus would not be the last pandemic to wreak havoc on humanity if we continue to ignore the links between infectious diseases and the destruction of the natural world.
Tackling wildlife markets and the wildlife trade is a daunting and complex task that requires international coordination, but if it is ignored, it poses a serious risk to all of us.