WWF Statement on Closing of Illegal Wildlife Trade in Markets Across the Asia Pacific Region

We are deeply saddened by the loss of lives through the Coronavirus outbreak and our thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones, or who are sick.

The Chinese Government’s decision to temporarily ban the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants and online is welcome given the circumstances. While the negative impact of the illegal wildlife trade on plant and animal populations and global biodiversity is apparent, the current spread of coronavirus, as well as SARS, MERS and other outbreaks in recent history, underscores the need to urgently take action and raise awareness on the potential human health threats posed by illegal or unregulated wildlife trade. 

Illegal markets for wild animals are common across many Asian countries, especially in areas such as Greater Mekong’s Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet close to the Chinese border. Snares set by poachers to supply bushmeat have become a widespread problem.  As a result, many of Asia’s forests are being exhausted of their endemic wildlife populations -- including many endangered species, the trade in which is prohibited or strictly regulated. Unfortunately, enforcement of laws in many of these illegal wildlife markets is weak or often non-existent. 

Not only are these illegal activities threatening biodiversity, but the absence of any veterinary controls makes them a threat to the health of both people and domestic animals, with the potential to significantly impact communities and economies both locally and globally. The coronavirus is a zoonotic disease, meaning it is an infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites that spread between animals and humans. It is understood to have mutated in an environment where it came into contact with people and was able to adapt in ways that allow for transmission to human populations. Wildlife markets can potentially therefore provide a conducive environment for this type of viral mutation.

In addition, Southeast Asia is a major transit and tourism hub, with countries like Thailand and Cambodia being popular destinations for people traveling from China and Vietnam especially during this time of the year around the Lunar New Year.

Pakistan is not a major wildlife consumer country yet it is known as an important source and transit for many illegal wildlife consignments bound mainly for East Asian countries. In-country illegal wildlife markets also exist in nearly all major cities, which deal in illegal trade of protected and endangered species including freshwater and marine turtles, birds, reptiles and mammals, etc; as well as live animals, their parts and products including fur. Pet turtles for example are known carriers of Salmonella bacteria. An increase in the number of private zoos, aviaries and exotic pets (especially big cats) is also a known cause of concern. There are over 300 private zoos in Punjab and Sindh established without any monitoring and surveillance system in place, nor are there adequate regulatory and management arrangements for carcass disposal, breeding, handling and sale.”

“This public health crisis is a wakeup call for the world,” said Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General, WWF-Pakistan. “If we don’t eliminate poaching and illegal wildlife trade in endangered animals and their parts, as bushmeat, for perceived medicinal value, or as pets, there will always be the threat of this kind of epidemic in the future.

WWF will work closely with governments in the Asia Pacific region to further strengthen national and international legal systems and engage public health sectors to permanently end illegal wildlife trade, including closure of unregulated wildlife markets.