KUALA LUMPUR: World Wide Fund (WWF) is deeply saddened by the loss of lives from the Coronavirus outbreak and our thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones, or who are sick.
The Government of China’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 consequently, global biodiversity – is well-known, the risk to human health that can occur because of wildlife markets appears to be less known.
The current emergence and spread of the Coronavirus, as well as SARS, MERS and other similar outbreaks in recent history, underscores the need to take urgent action and raise awareness on the potential threats to human health posed by the illegal and unregulated wildlife trade.
The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime estimates the global wildlife trafficking industry to be worth between USD7bil (RM28bil) and USD23bil (RM92bil) annually.
Illegal markets for live and dead 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.
While Malaysia is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, it is also a known transit hub on the wildlife trade route.
There are individuals and syndicates in Malaysia profiting from illegal wildlife trade which is a multimillion-ringgit business spread across the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak. Some of these rare wildlife are endangered and protected under the law.
Snares set by poachers to supply a growing demand for wild animals has resulted in many of Asia’s tropical forests being emptied of their endemic wildlife populations. In Malaysia, the Malayan tiger, banteng, pangolin, sun bear, the Bornean elephant, the Bornean orangutan, and many more are hunted as part of a lucrative wildlife business, be it for consumption, medicinal purposes or to be sold as exotic pets.
Not only are these illegal activities threatening wildlife, 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 that is causing the current outbreak is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can transfer from animals to humans.
The virus has the potential to mutate and infect humans by jumping the species barrier in places where people come in close contact with infected animals. Wildlife markets are a potentially fertile environment for this type of viral mutation and infection of humans, at times with fatal consequences. Movements of infected people, aided by rapidly growing transportation and tourism sectors, can then turn local outbreaks into pandemics.
“While demand and supply both fuel wildlife crime, education and public awareness efforts must continue. There is an urgency to stamp out illegal wildlife trafficking along the entire trade chain, from source to destination and we strongly encourage anyone with information on wildlife crime to come forward. By supporting the fight against illegal wildlife trade, we can stop poaching and indiscriminate killing of our endangered wildlife,” said WWF-Malaysia’s CEO, Sophia Lim.
“This public health crisis needs to be a wakeup call for the Asia-Pacific region that it is time to permanently close illegal and unregulated wildlife markets,” said Ron (Ryuji) Tsutsui, CEO of WWF Japan who is also the Chairperson of “Asia Pacific Growth Strategy” which is WWF CEO’s group in Asia Pacific Region. “If we don’t permanently end poaching and illegal trade of wild animals for 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 eliminate illegal wildlife trade, including closure of unregulated wildlife markets.