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Down to Earth

Could ending wildlife trade mean ending pandemics?

DOWN TO EARTH
DOWN TO EARTH © FRANCE 24

Conservationists have long been calling for an end to markets where wild animals are kept in confined and unsanitary conditions. These types of markets have been singled out as potential nests for viruses such as Covid-19. Some say today's pandemic is a watershed moment for curbing this trade. What are the risks if business continues as usual? Are we sleepwalking into another crisis?  

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Perhaps it was a bat... or a snake... via a pangolin? While the exact origins of the coronavirus outbreak remain uncertain, as the crisis unfolded, China very quickly issued a ban on wildlife trade and consumption. The government has pledged to turn the ban into law, demonstrating a tougher response than the one that followed the 2003 SARS outbreak. But the use of wild animals runs deep in Chinese culture and the ban includes some important loopholes such as medicinal use.

Peter Li, Associate Professor of East Asian Politics at the University of Houston-Downtown told us: "Millions of wild animals are still suffering on Chinese fur farms and farms for traditional Chinese medicine, and for display and for laboratory use. I personally believe that shutting down wildlife operations and trading for the exotic food market is not enough."

Many viruses, however, like bird flu and swine flu, don't come from "exotic" or wild animals, and can be just as deadly.

Bats not to blame

The probable link between bats and Covid-19 has led certain communities around the world to undertake mass cullings. In northern Peru, near Cajamarca, a government wildlife organisation had to intercept efforts to roast a colony of bats, with locals fearing the animals may pose a risk. Several hundred bats had already been burned but others were fortunate enough to be saved.

Richard Thomas from Traffic, the world's leading wildlife trafficking watchdog, told FRANCE 24 that bats are not responsible for the spread of Covid-19 to humans. Thomas added: "We need bats. Bats are incredibly important as pollinators and for seed dispersal... The fact that they're able to host these viruses but not get sick from them, the fact that they are able to repair their DNA incredibly effectively, there's a lot to learn."

>> Covid-19 crisis caused by 'disregard for nature', says primatologist Jane Goodall

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