Covid-19 a wake-up call on wildlife trade and consumption, says NGO

The food market in Wuhan identified as the source of Covid-19. (AP pic)

PETALING JAYA: A wildlife conservation group says the Covid-19 outbreak which has claimed over 4,000 lives and infected hundreds of thousands worldwide should serve as a wake-up call to the dangers of wildlife trade and consumption.

Scientists suspect the SARS-like virus was spread from wild animals to humans in December in a market in Wuhan, a province in China, after the earliest infections were traced to people at a wildlife market there.

Beijing has since banned the selling and eating of wild animals to fight the spread of the virus, also known as the coronavirus.

Monitor Conservation Research Society founder Chris Shepherd said the consumption of wildlife was clearly not without risk.

He said much of the wild meat trade and consumption around the world is illegal and unsustainable.

“Hopefully this outbreak will serve as a wake-up call to authorities everywhere. Shutting down the illegal wild meat trade should be made an international priority,” he told FMT.

Monitor had said in the past that based on its research, the illegal trafficking of wildlife in Malaysia is rampant.

Meanwhile, Shepherd said it was essential that people do not demonise the species from which people are suspected to have caught the virus.

According to the BBC, scientists say a range of wild animal species could be the host, in particular bats, “which harbour a large number of different coronaviruses”. The disease has also been found in pangolins.

Both animals are often sold in wet markets, with pangolin scales used in traditional Chinese medicine and its meat considered a delicacy by some.

Shepherd said wildlife markets where stressed animals from various places are crammed in unnatural densities and in unhygienic holding conditions make for ideal conditions for viruses to thrive and spread.

“These markets need to be closed permanently,” he said, adding that wildlife meat is traded and consumed around the world, not just in China.

He said it was necessary to increase efforts to monitor and regulate the trade.