Global Push to End Pangolin Trade

Jay Chou: Pangolins from WildAid on Vimeo.

Published Mar 25, 2020 9:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

Bushmeat sellers in Gabon have lost some of their best customers, says media outlet France24, as their Chinese buyers have now disappeared.

Although the pangolin trade is illegal in Gabon, prices have increased over the past few years, driven by overseas trade for both meat and scales. The reported drop in trade now follows news that pangolins may be implicated in the transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19) to humans. 

A ban on eating wildlife has been instigated by China in response to the pandemic that started in a Wuhan “wet” market. “We have long recognized the risks of consuming wildlife, but the game industry is still huge and poses a major public health hazard,” said President Xi Jinping in February. “No more indifference! I have given instructions on the subject. Relevant departments should strengthen law enforcement, strengthen market supervision, resolutely ban and crack down on illegal wildlife markets and trade, resolutely eradicate the bad habit of indiscriminate eating of wildlife and control major public health risks at the source.”

At wet markets, legal and illegally traded animals are crammed into cages in unhygienic and stressful conditions awaiting slaughter and sale. Peer-reviewed science has demonstrated that the virus may have originated in Chinese horseshoe bats and been passed via an intermediate wildlife host to humans while in close proximity in wet markets. The species that acted as an intermediate host has not been identified for certain, although one research group in China has suggested it may be pangolins. 

Benin-born actor Djimon Hounsou, who investigated wildlife markets with WildAid last November to rescue live pangolins, has now stated: “Africa needs to heed the lessons from China and close down these [wildlife] markets immediately. As well as a massive risk to health, they endanger species and are inhumane.”

WildAid first warned of the dangers of pangolin meat consumption in a video featuring Asian mega-star Jay Chou several years ago and is now calling for an urgent global ban on all live wildlife markets and all pangolins products. The video has been revived and gone viral with millions of people in China and the U.S. calling for an end to the wildlife trade, says WildAid. In a February 2020 poll by Peking University, 97 percent of the 100,000+ respondents were strongly against consuming wild animals.

Humane Society International (HSI) is also reiterating its call for an end to the wildlife trade. HSI's Head of Campaigns in Australia Nicola Beynon says that as COVID-19 spreads in our communities, governments globally must act against wildlife trade. “An all too familiar conservation and animal cruelty crisis, now wildlife trade is implicated in a public health emergency of unprecedented global proportions. Dare we hope governments will firmly clamp down?”

In the past, wet markets have spawned other global health crises, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the deadly bird flu, she says. Praising china for the ban, she notes however that the capture, market trade and butchery of wild animal species for human consumption happens across large parts of Asia and Africa including Indonesia, India, Vietnam and West, Central and East Africa, as well as in Latin America, posing a very real threat of spreading zoonotic and potentially fatal diseases. 

“Indonesia has hundreds of 'extreme' animal markets where the conditions are perfect breeding ground for new zoonotic viruses,” says Beynon. “Wild animals are sold and slaughtered in public and unsanitary conditions. The trade takes place alongside that of dogs and cats which itself has already been shown to pose a risk of rabies transmission.”

Some governments are following China's lead, with Vietnam preparing a directive to halt the consumption of wildlife starting April 1.

Beynon says: “Wildlife is traded for human consumption, trinkets, traditional medicines and display, and all along the supply chain there are opportunities for viruses to spread to humans. Captive breeding of wild species such as civets, tigers and bears all pose risks. Since the wet markets are just the shop front, commercial breeding, trading and transporting wildlife must all be prohibited, and for all purposes, to remove the risk of other zoonotic viruses emerging.”