Environment

Preventing illegal wildlife trade helps avoid zoonotic diseases

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Published

May 15, 2020

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Published:

May 15, 2020

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COVID-19 is a deadly zoonotic disease and there is an urgent need to reduce the risk of similar outbreaks. Preventing illegal wildlife trade is a good place to start. “Illegal wildlife trade contributes to habitat destruction, which removes necessary buffer zones between humans and wild fauna, making it more likely that animal pathogens come into contact with people,” Ivonne Higuero says in an interview for UNEP.

She is the Secretary-General of the convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, an international treaty with 183 parties – 182 states plus the European Union. Wildlife is the target of the fourth-largest illegal trade activity on a global scale.

According to Higuero, illegal wildlife trade has many negative consequences for human well-being and species conservation.

Biodiversity loss is one of the greatest global threats in our time, and it also means a narrower genetic pool and therefore less resilience to resist diseases of any kind

“When criminal actors trade in endangered species, they weaken entire ecosystems and they threaten essential links of the world’s biological diversity. Biodiversity loss is one of the greatest global threats in our time, and it also means a narrower genetic pool and therefore less resilience to resist diseases of any kind,” she underlines.

Illegal wildlife trade contributes to habitat devastation, which removes buffer zones between humans and wild fauna

Illegal wildlife trade contributes to habitat devastation, which removes necessary buffer zones between humans and wild fauna. As a consequence, animal pathogens will more often get in touch with people. Specimens that are traded illegally are also much less likely to be sold or bought where sanitary standards are being properly enforced, making the spread of diseases more likely.

She recalls that many emerging infectious diseases in recent times have originated in wild animals.

Illegal wildlife trade flows is bringing people too close to animal habitats, and therefore contributing to the spread of diseases

“Illegal wildlife trade flows will only make these episodes worse, by degrading or bringing people too close to animal habitats, and therefore contributing to the spread of diseases,” she adds.

There is a need to have a better balance between humans and nature

Asked about steps that need to be taken to prevent the emergence and spread of diseases such as COVID-19, she said international trade must be fully regulated and that it is necessary to fully enforce national wildlife legislation and regulations.

Governments must rebuild post COVID-19 by investing in nature

“There is a need to have a better balance between humans and nature. This means stopping the destruction and degradation of habitats, deforestation, and undesirable land conversion,” Higuero asserted.

She says over half of the world’s gross domestic product is highly or moderately dependent on nature, with livelihoods of millions of people relying on wildlife as a source of income and protein, so that governments must invest in nature as part of the post-COVID-19 recovery efforts.

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