If there can be a bright side to the coronavirus pandemic, which started in a “wet market” in Wuhan that sold live animals in deplorable conditions, it has finally spurred China and Vietnam to ban consumption of wild animals.
The two countries have been behind the skyrocketing death rates for endangered animals like the rhinoceros, elephant and the heavily trafficked pangolin, which have been killed for food and homeopathic “medicinal” cures in the countries. But this trade and the wet markets have been behind not just the recent outbreak, but the SARS explosion in 2002 (which is believed to have emanated from a small mammal called a civet), the swine flu and others.
In January, China imposed a ban on all farming and consumption of “terrestrial wildlife of important ecological, scientific and social value,” which is expected to be signed into law later this year.
And now, after conservationists sent an open letter to Vietnam’s prime minister recommending action against the wildlife trade as a means of preventing future outbreaks of disease, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that country is also looking to stop importing imperiled animals to eat.
The letter — signed by the head of Pan Nature, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Animals Asia Foundation, TRAFFIC, Save Vietnam Wildlife, and Wildlife Conservation Society — to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, stated in part: “Limiting interaction between wildlife and humans through strong enforcement against illegal wildlife trade and wildlife markets is the most effective approach to mitigating future risk associated with transmission of disease between animals and humans.
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“As the source of this particular outbreak, China has already made some major steps to mitigate future risk in relation to zoonotic disease outbreaks from contact between wildlife and humans by temporarily closing all wildlife markets,” the letter continues. “This is in recognition of the serious threat faced. In order to ensure national safety, economic security and the health of the public and Vietnam’s precious ecosystems, we request the Vietnamese government to take strong and sustainable actions to halt all illegal wildlife trade and consumption in Vietnam.”
Prime Minister Phuc responded earlier this month “by tasking the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) with formulating directives to ban the trade and consumption of wildlife and submit them to the government for review by April 1.”
Vietnam only has 75 cases of COVID-19, but the economic impact has been severe.
Deborah Calmeyer, who runs ROAR Africa, was excited about the prospect of wildlife trafficking possibly being curtailed.
“I think we’re finally almost guaranteed a positive result here,” she said. “More people are enlightened [and it] will reduce demand for exotic species on the dinner table — and even those who don’t care about the animals per se will demand control to protect themselves. Once the pandemic is controlled and the ‘tourniquet’ can be released, I see the world paying attention to the original cause. Possibly even trade sanctions against countries not doing their bit to control wildlife trade.”