The coronavirus likely originated in the "wet markets" of Wuhan, where animals are kept in tight cages and butchered to order. These markets are a central hub in the wildlife trade, which has existed in a place of nebulous legality for a long time. The outbreak of the coronavirus has made wet markets the subject of animal rights groups and health care professionals, who protest the inhumane treatment of the animals and the likelihood of another pandemic starting in these environments.
In January, China has issued a temporary ban on “terrestrial wildlife of important ecological, scientific and social value,” which is expected to be signed into law later this year. More recently, a group of conservationists from Pan Nature, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Animals Asia Foundation, TRAFFIC, Save Vietnam Wildlife, and Wildlife Conservation Society sent a letter to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to stop the wildlife trade.
“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.
“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.”
Vietnam has only seen 75 cases, but the disease has had a severe economic impact on the country. In response to the letter, Prime Minister Phuc issued a statement “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.”
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.”