WWF Statement on Closing Illegal Wildlife Markets Across the Asia Pacific Region

Posted on 31 January 2020

WWF is committed to working with governments in the Asia-Pacific region to eliminate the illegal wildlife trade, including the closure of unregulated wildlife markets, in the interest of biodiversity preservation and public health.
We are deeply saddened by the loss of lives from the Coronavirus outbreak and our thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones, or who are sick. 
The Government of China’s decision to temporarily ban the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants and online is welcome given the circumstances. While the negative impact of the illegal wildlife trade on plant and animal populations and global biodiversity is well known, the risk to human health that can occur because of wildlife markets appears to be less known. The current emergence and spread of the Coronavirus, as well as SARS, MERS and other similar outbreaks in recent history, underscores the need to take urgent action and raise awareness on the potential threats to human health posed by the illegal and unregulated wildlife trade. 
Illegal markets for live and dead wild animals are common across many Asian countries, especially in areas such as Greater Mekong’s Golden Triangle where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet close to the Chinese border. Snares set by poachers to supply a growing demand for wild meat has become a widespread problem.  As a result, many of Asia’s tropical forests are being emptied of their endemic wildlife populations -- including many endangered species, the trade in which should be strictly prohibited. Unfortunately, enforcement of laws in many of these illegal wildlife markets is weak or often non-existent. 
Not only are these illegal activities threatening wildlife, the absence of any veterinary controls makes them a threat to the health of both people and domestic animals, with the potential to significantly impact communities and economies, both locally and globally. The Coronavirus causes zoonotic disease, which can transfer from animals to humans. The virus has the potential to mutate and infect humans by jumping the species barrier in places where people come in close contact with infected animals. Wildlife markets therefore provide a potentially fertile environment for this type of viral mutation and infection of humans, at times with fatal consequences. Movements of infected people, aided by rapidly growing transportation and tourism sectors, can then turn local outbreaks into pandemics. 
“This public health crisis needs to be a wake-up call for the Asia-Pacific region that it is time to permanently close illegal and unregulated wildlife markets,” said Ron (Ryuji) Tsutsui, CEO of WWF Japan who is also the Chairperson of the “Asia Pacific Growth Strategy,” which is the WWF CEO’s group in the Asia Pacific Region. “If we don’t permanently end poaching and illegal trade of wild animals for bushmeat, for perceived medicinal value, or as pets, there will always be the threat of this kind of epidemic in the future.” 
WWF will work closely with governments in the Asia-Pacific region to further strengthen national and international legal systems and engage public health sectors to eliminate illegal wildlife trade, including closure of unregulated wildlife markets. 

For more information, please contact Ryuji (Ron) Tsutsui, Chairperson APGS, WWF
Live bamboo rats at a market in the Golden Triangle.
Donate to WWF