Written by: Kimberly White

A new coalition has launched to put an end to the commercial wildlife trade. WildAid, Global Wildlife Conservation, and the Wildlife Conservation Society formed the Coalition to End the Trade in hopes of preventing future pandemics. 

In addition to COVID-19, the wildlife trade has been linked to several major pandemics in past years, including the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Ebola. The wildlife trade has also facilitated the transmission of pathogens that cause bird flu, swine flu, and more. 

The Coalition is calling on conservationists, scientists, policymakers, health professionals, and civil society to help drive “a global paradigm shift to prevent future pandemics” by signing the Declaration to End the Trade. According to the Coalition, the Declaration serves as a petition to governments worldwide to permanently ban the commercial trade of terrestrial wild animals for consumption. 

The Declaration calls on national governments to:

  • Enact legislation to permanently end the commercial trade and sale in markets of terrestrial wild animals for consumption; 
  • Empower relevant agencies to enforce the law; 
  • Develop ethical and equitable transition measures for those whose livelihoods are affected by the ban. 

However, the Coalition says that “subsistence hunting by indigenous people and local communities for household consumption and/or cultural identity” is exempt from the recommendations listed in the Declaration. Instead, the Coalition calls on national governments to ensure people and communities who must eat wild animals due to lack of alternatives have access to sustainably produced domestic animal or plant foods to reduce the risk of exposure to zoonotic pathogens. 

“By recognizing zoonotic pandemics as one of the three interrelated and existential crises which humanity has created, along with climate change and biodiversity loss, we take the first vital step in solving these all together and bringing about an inflection point for the planet,” said Cristián Samper, WCS President and CEO. “We now need a radical change in the global concept of wildlife trade.”

The Coalition to End the Trade aims to collect at least one million signatures, from both individuals and organizations, on the Declaration. 

“Mobilizing a global response to end the wildlife trade is the most pressing action we can take today to ensure a pandemic like COVID-19 never happens again,” said Peter Knights, CEO of WildAid. “If you care about your health, you should care about wildlife conservation.”

The Coalition is working closely with the European Commission to tackle the illegal wildlife trade with the European Commission committing €10 million to support vulnerable communities. 

“The European Union is committed to combat wildlife trafficking and implement its Green Deal,” said Jutta Urpilainen, EU commissioner for international partnerships. “I believe that partnerships are the only way to tackle global crises, so I am committing €10 million to support the emergency response for the most vulnerable communities and ecosystems. As a parent and commissioner for international partnerships, I am working for a safe and healthy planet for all our children.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many local and national governments have begun considering the ban of bushmeat and wildlife markets. 

China initially issued a temporary ban on the sale of wildlife in markets and restaurants in January. In February, China announced a permanent ban on wildlife consumption and trade. 

Gabon banned the sale and consumption of bats and pangolins earlier this month. 

In the United States, lawmakers in New York and California called for a shutdown of all ‘wet markets’ in their states. 

UN Biodiversity Chief, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, called for a global ban on wildlife markets

“This tragic pandemic and the havoc that it has wreaked around the planet is a resounding wakeup call for humankind,” said Wes Sechrest, Chief Scientist and CEO of Global Wildlife Conservation. “We need the courage now to reexamine our relationship with nature and shut down the commercial trade of terrestrial wild animals, otherwise zoonotic pandemics will likely continue to impact our global society. The Coalition to End the Trade is answering the call and encouraging the rest of the world to join us.”

Sign the Declaration to End the Trade

Header Image Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society