WWF Statement on Closing Illegal Wildlife Markets Across the Asia Pacific Region | WWF Hong Kong

WWF Statement on Closing Illegal Wildlife Markets Across the Asia Pacific Region

01 February 2020

We are 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 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. 
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. Snares set by poachers to supply a growing demand for wild meat has become a widespread problem. Hong Kong, as one of the most important financial centres in the world, also remains a hub for the transport of live wildlife into Mainland China and elsewhere in the region. As a result, many of Asia’s tropical forests are being emptied of their endemic wildlife populations -- including many endangered species, the trade in which should be strictly prohibited. Unfortunately, enforcement of laws in many of these illegal wildlife markets is weak or often non-existent. 
Not only are these largely illegal, and certainly unregulated activities threatening wildlife populations, but 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 causes zoonotic disease, which 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 therefore provide 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.  
“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.” 
Peter Cornthwaite, CEO WWF Hong Kong said, “All 24 WWF offices around the Asia Pacific Region have now committed to co-ordinated actions to mobilise the necessary resources to work with authorities to end the wildlife trade in markets across the Region. Those interested in helping or supporting us in this task can contact Dr David Olson, Director of Conservation at dolson@wwf.org.hk as he leads coordination of Illegal Wildlife Trade initiative.”
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.