On World Health Day, WWF Central and Eastern Europe Calls for a Halt to the Illegal Wildlife Trade and Forest Crime

Posted on April, 07 2020

There is no health without a healthy planet.
7 April 2020 - This World Health Day, the world is grappling with the worst public health emergency in recent memory. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has brought the link between zoonotic diseases - those transmitted from animals to humans - and wildlife trade into sharp focus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that the current COVID-19 pandemic, along with at least 61 per cent of all human pathogens, are zoonotic in origin – and wildlife trade is an aggravating risk in the spread of zoonoses. Other recent epidemics, including SARS, MERS and Ebola, have also all been traced back to viruses that spread from animals to people. Questions remain about the exact origins of COVID-19, but the World Health Organization has confirmed it is a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumped from wildlife to humans. However, we must keep in mind that wildlife itself is not responsible for the spread of the disease, but rather irresponsible human behaviour such as the illegal wildlife trade, unregulated and unsanitary “wet markets,” massive deforestation and illegal logging, and human consumption of these often endangered wild animals.
Unsustainable wildlife trade is the second-largest direct threat to biodiversity globally, after habitat destruction. Populations of vertebrate species on earth declined by an average 60 per cent since 1970, and a 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) concluded that an average of 25 per cent of global species are currently threatened with extinction. Biodiversity must be protected in order to protect our own health as well as the planet's.
According to new research by WWF, over 90 per cent of respondents surveyed in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong support a government-led closure of illegal and unregulated wildlife markets. “The public in Asia have spoken - those living in countries where wildlife markets are most prevalent are demanding that wildlife consumption is curbed and illegal and unregulated wildlife trade is eliminated. People are deeply worried and would support their governments in taking action to prevent potential future global health crises originating in wildlife markets." said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “It is time to connect the dots between wildlife trade, environmental degradation and risks to human health. Taking action now for humans as well as the many wildlife species threatened by consumption and trade is crucial for all of our survival.”
Read Survey Summary
This is not an “Asian problem.” According to Interpol, environmental crime now ranks as the 3rd largest criminal sector worldwide. Just a year ago it was 4th. Environmental crime includes poaching, illegal logging, and the trade in endangered and protected plants and animals. Organised crime has become increasingly involved because of the relatively low risk and mild punishments in comparison to the illegal drug trade or human trafficking. In Central and Eastern Europe, WWF is cooperating with Interpol to train local law enforcement, prosecutors, police and customs officers to be more effective in their fight against illegal logging  and working on the root causes of poaching of strictly protected sturgeon and large carnivores such as lynx, brown bears and wolves.
Cracking down on illegal and unregulated wildlife trade is important to prevent future zoonotic epidemics and safeguard people’s well-being and lives. With strong public support, we call on Ministers of Health and Ministers of Environment to work together to stop the next potential epidemic.  Biodiversity must be protected in order to protect our own health as well as the planet's. This is why the EU Biodiversity Strategy under the European Green Deal must provide a strong push towards shutting down illegal wildlife trade and preserving ecosystems in Europe and abroad. Future pandemics will only be avoided if people learn to live in harmony with nature.
For more information:
Irene Lucius
Regional Conservation Director
WWF Central and Eastern Europe
Tel: +43 1 52 45 470 19

View full report here.
[1] Online survey conducted by GlobeScan
Between March 3-11, 2020, with n=1,000 respondents polled online in Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam for a total of  5,000 responses. Respondents were randomly selected and were representative of gender and age of the online population of their respective market. In all markets, except for Japan, 90% or more of the people surveyed were very likely or likely to support efforts by governments and health ministries to close all illegal and unregulated markets selling wildlife in their country. However, in Japan, 59% of the respondents answered that there are no such markets in their country. In Japan, open wildlife markets for meat are not prevalent. Therefore, this may explain why only 54% claimed that they would support such government efforts.
Illegal and unregulated wildlife markets:
An illegal wildlife market is one that is in breach of laws related to conservation or food hygiene (or any other relevant laws around business accounting, tax, labour practices etc.). An unregulated market is one where either these laws are weak and don't address key concerns, or where the laws are okay on paper but are routinely flouted or not properly enforced. Many of these markets are 'wet' markets which are thought to be the original source of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19.
Wet markets:
In this context, a wet market is a collection of stalls selling live produce such as livestock, poultry, seafood and other perishable goods. In many markets across South East Asia, it is not unusual for some of these markets to stock wild animals such as forest rats, bats and flying foxes which are considered a delicacy by some. In often cases once a customer selects an animal, bargains and agrees on a price with the trader, the animal is then slaughtered on site and the meat packed fresh to be taken away or cooked and served on site. The unsanitary handling of this produce in some markets and the mixing of wildlife and domestic animals as well as between live animals and meat produce is what increases the risk of cross-contamination between species and humans.
Biodiversity must be protected in order to protect our own health as well as the planet's.
“It is time to connect the dots between wildlife trade, environmental degradation and risks to human health." - Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International.