Public calls for governments to close Southeast Asia’s wildlife markets in response to COVID-19, WWF survey finds. | WWF
Public calls for governments to close Southeast Asia’s wildlife markets in response to COVID-19, WWF survey finds.

Posted on 07 April 2020

Karachi, 7 April: This World Health Day, as the world grapples with the worst public health emergency in recent memory, over 90 per cent of respondents surveyed in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong support a government-led closure of illegal and unregulated wildlife markets, according to new research commissioned by WWF.
The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has brought the link between zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted from animals to humans - and wildlife markets into sharp focus. A perception survey conducted by GlobeScan in March 2020 which included 5,000 participants from Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, wildlife consumer countries, found that 82 per cent of respondents are extremely or very worried about the outbreak, with 93 per cent of respondents in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong supporting actions by their governments to eliminate illegal and unregulated wildlife trade markets.

Questions remain about the exact origins of COVID-19, but the World Health Organization has confirmed it is a zoonotic disease, i.e. that it has been transmitted from wildlife to humans. The Chinese government already announced a comprehensive ban on the consumption and trade of wild animals on 24 February as well as a closure of its wildlife markets. WWF’s research shows that citizens support similar actions from other governments across the region. This was the first public opinion survey about the perceived connection between COVID-19 and wildlife trade undertaken across Asia.

Commenting on this, Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General WWF-Pakistan said that illegal and unregulated wildlife markets provide a fertile environment for the spread of zoonotic diseases and their transmission to humans, at times with fatal consequences. WWF-Pakistan has monitored illegal trade in the country for a long time and our work indicates that there are several open markets in major cities of Pakistan which deal in illegal trade of wildlife, primarily meeting the pet trade demand. Animals on sale in such markets are often poached from their natural habitats and carry a great risk of the spread of diseases. Majority of the wildlife species including freshwater turtles and Indian pangolins illegally smuggled from Pakistan are destined to the Asian consumer countries. He was of the view that Pakistan, a source and transit country for illegal consignments of various wildlife species, should take further stern measures to curb wildlife poaching and trafficking. ‘

‘China has taken positive steps to prohibit the hunting, trade, transport and consumption of wild animals, and Vietnam is working along similar directives,’ said Christy Williams, Regional Director of WWF’s Asia Pacific programme. ‘Other Asian governments must follow suit by closing their high-risk wildlife markets and ending this trade once and for all to save lives and help prevent a repeat of the social and economic disruption we are experiencing around the globe today’, he added.  

Nine per cent of those surveyed by GlobeScan stated that they or someone they know purchased wildlife in the past 12 months at an open wildlife market, but that 84 per cent are unlikely or very unlikely to buy wildlife products in the future.

‘The public in Asia have spoken - those living in countries where wildlife markets are most prevalent are demanding that wildlife consumption is curbed and illegal and unregulated wildlife trade is eliminated. People are deeply worried and would support their governments in taking action to prevent potential future global health crises originating in wildlife markets’, said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. He emphasized that it is time to connect the dots between wildlife trade, environmental degradation and risks to human health. ‘Taking action now for humans as well as the many wildlife species threatened by consumption and trade is crucial for all of our survival’, he added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that the current COVID-19 pandemic, along with at least 61 per cent of all human pathogens, are zoonotic in origin and wildlife trade is an aggravating risk in the spread of zoonoses. Other recent zoonotic epidemics, including SARS, MERS and Ebola, have also all been traced back to viruses that spread from animals to people.

Unsustainable wildlife trade is the second-largest direct threat to biodiversity globally, after habitat destruction. Populations of vertebrate species on Earth declined by an average 60 per cent since 1970, and a 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) concluded that an average of 25 per cent of global species are currently threatened with extinction.
Indian pangolin found stranded in Karachi was later released into its natural habitat.
© WWF-Pakistan