Over 200 organizations from across the world, including World Animal Protection, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International, Born Free, and Wild Aid, have issued a letter urging the World Health Organization (WHO) to endorse a permanent ban on live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine.
The letter highlights that with the suspected COVID-19 link to a wildlife market in China, WHO must take action to achieve its mission to serve public health at all times. WHO should recommend that governments worldwide permanently ban live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine.
According to an industry report by the Chinese Academy of Engineering published in 2017, the Chinese wildlife market is a $73-billion industry and employs over 14 million people.
Sixty per cent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning they originate from animals, and 70% of these are believed to originate in wild animals.
A ban on wildlife markets is urgently needed to prevent the unregulated and unhygienic conditions and the close proximity between humans and animals, providing the perfect opportunity for pathogens to spread.
This particular letter states, ‘While a robust global response is critical in detecting, treating and reducing transmission [of COVID-19], it is equally necessary to take vital measures to prevent similar emerging infectious diseases developing into pandemics with the associated threats to human life, and social and economic well-being.’
This risk is further exacerbated by the cruel conditions in which animals are typically farmed or collected from the wild, transported, and held at wildlife markets. This inevitably results in large numbers of different species being kept in close proximity, causing immense stress and weakening of their immune systems.
According to Gilbert Sape, Head of the Wildlife Not Medicine campaign at World Animal Protection said, “Given this pandemic is believed to have originated at a wildlife market, we’re calling on WHO to unequivocally state the proven link between these markets and the severe threats they pose to human health. WHO can help prevent future pandemics by excluding the use of wildlife from their endorsement of traditional medicine. This could help save lives in the future and help protect millions of wild animals that are unnecessarily and cruelly farmed or poached from the wild to supply this industry. Plant-based alternatives are recognized and available.”
Scientists for decades have been drawing attention to outbreaks of human diseases that have originated in animals, including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), and Ebola.
Conservationists question whether China and the rest of the world plan to protect the interests of the multibillion-dollar wildlife industry or the lives of those it has endangered.