• Flux Magazine

"Coronavirus and Wildlife" by Katherine Breeher

Animal-borne diseases that crossover to humans have caused epidemics and pandemics many times before in human history. Avian flu, swine flu and HIV are a few examples most people are familiar with. The origin of SARS, an outbreak from 2002-2004 that killed about 800 people worldwide, has been traced back to a ‘wet market’, where the virus probably jumped from a bat to a civet cat to a human. It is highly likely that COVID-19 was also started at a ‘wet market’, where the virus likely jumped from a bat to a pangolin to a human. A wet market is a marketplace in which people can buy live animals for consumption, which are slaughtered on site. The conditions for animals in these marketplaces are less than unsavory. And places like this are a hotbed for viruses to jump between animals, and, as we’ve seen, to humans. Wet markets in China have both legal and illegal trading going on side by side, which can make them difficult to police. Different species from every region of the world are present and every cage is stacked high, one on top of the other. Blood and other excretements drips down from the cage on top all the way to the bottom. It's not hard to see why viruses thrive in this sort of environment.

With a halt on international travel, increased border security, and a temporary ban on wildlife trade in China, organized criminal networks that traffic wildlife products illegally are suffering. China is the world’s biggest market for some items like elephant tusks, rhino horns and pangolin scales. The Chinese government has done little to discourage this in the past. Products moving from Southeast Asian countries to China have been disrupted by strict border control. Authorities now have the perfect chance to permanently dismantle criminal networks and destroy stockpiles, ​if ​they act swiftly and with savvy. The pool of customers that traffickers sell to are disconnected from their business currently. This pool may dry up altogether as a result of COVID-19, because of the newfound apprehension in purchasing and consuming wildlife products.

In other regions, however, the halt on international travel is ​fueling ​the illegal wildlife trade. As tourism is severely down in Africa, criminal organizations have more opportunities to infiltrate parks and reservations to poach wildlife. Traffickers are getting desperate and more people will likely be turning to illicit methods of making money because of the economic crisis resulting from COVID-19. Wildlife trafficking is also usually intertwined with illegal weapons and human trafficking.

Few positives can be taken from this ongoing pandemic. One of them could be finally putting a stop to the illegal wildlife trade, which is harming threatened and endangered species, our environment, and us. But the time to act is now if we are going to prevent something similar, or even worse, from happening ​again ​in the future.

COVID-19 ​has started the conversation about and awareness of the illegal wildlife trade’s relationship to biosecurity, public health, and economic impact rather than simply bringing it up in relation to conservation. Mainstream science and media is finally t​ aking this global problem seriously because of COVID-19.

How many times will the world have to face a pandemic rooted in the illegal trading of protected flora and fauna before we take the necessary precautions? How many animals and humans will have to suffer and perish before governments put a serious effort into banning this practice?

Sources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPpoJGYlW54

https://www.msn.com/en-xl/news/other/ban-wildlife-trade-to-prevent-pandem ics-lobby-tells-g20/ar-BB148rDF

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/03/18/coronavirus-fact -check-covid-19-caused-eating-animals/5073094002/

https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-has-finally-made-us-recognise-the-ille gal-wildlife-trade-is-a-public-health-issue-133673

https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-covid-19-changes-perceptions-trade-wil dlife https://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/coronavirus-how-wildlife-trade-c an-be-defeated-1.1020214

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/29/science/coronavirus-disrupts-illegal-wil dlife-trafficking-for-now.html

https://www.msn.com/en-xl/news/other/ban-wildlife-trade-to-prevent-pandem ics-lobby-tells-g20/ar-BB148rDF

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