Bills Target Wildlife Markets Suspected of Spreading COVID-19
Washington, D.C.

This week, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the U.S., conservation groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, are joining a petition organized by Global Wildlife Conservation that seeks to end the sale of live wild animals in markets.

Earlier this month, China declared its intent to reopen its wet wildlife markets, which sell animals in crowded conditions that are unsafe for both wildlife and humans, have been pegged as the most likely place the disease originally spread from wildlife species. The most likely species, according to health professionals, are bats, snakes and pangolins that are sold for human consumption, traditional medicine and as products for the fashion industry.

In early April, before news of the reopened markets was released, American lawmakers expressed concerns that China is not doing enough to curb the risk of disease from live wildlife markets, the suspected source of the virus. Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) sent a letter in mid-March to the World Health Organization (WHO) saying that China should be taking more steps toward curbing wildlife trade. 

“When you look at the conditions that led to the spread of COVID-19, and the strong link to wildlife species that are highly sought-after in open markets, it’s a clear sign we need to take a hard look at our global wildlife trade, specially the illegal trade,” said Alejandra Goyenechea, senior international counsel for Defenders of Wildlife. “We cannot keep allowing wildlife to be captured, transported and sold in a way that is unsafe, especially in the midst of global human health and biodiversity crisis.”

McCaul’s message comes a month after several organizations including Defenders of Wildlife also sent a letter to WHO requesting that wildlife markets be closed while nations around the globe grapple with the global spread of COVID-19. The letter, also addressed to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), stresses that illegal wildlife trade increases “the risks to global human and animal health” and puts unsustainable pressure on biodiversity.

In response to these concerns, China temporarily banned the farming and consumption of wild animals earlier this month for human consumption. According to news sources, China’s trade has been moved online while other nations such as Nigeria continue to trade endangered pangolins, one of the species suspected of carrying the virus and transferring it to humans.  

In the U.S., several bills have now been introduced that address open wildlife markets and the risks they pose to the spread of disease. 

One of these bills, the Protecting All Wildlife Against Trafficking Act, is sponsored by Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois) and was introduced into the House of Representatives in late February. The bill seeks to highlight the issue of illegal wildlife trade (IWT) for Americans traveling internationally and curb the effects of IWT on the spread of disease. 

The bill would also extend the life of the President’s Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, a federal group created by President Barack Obama in 2013. This taskforce, which has served as an important framework for collaborating and sharing information among federal agencies involved in wildlife trafficking, would have been disbanded in 2021. 

 “The Protecting All Wildlife Against Trafficking Act takes important steps to fight illegal wildlife trade, which is a serious and mounting threat to biodiversity and to the rule of law across the globe,” said Bob Dreher, senior vice president of conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife. “Congressman Lipinski’s bill would help ensure that the United States takes a firm, coordinated stand against wildlife trafficking.”

The taskforce also ensures the U.S., one of the largest markets and transit routes for wildlife products in the world, stays involved and engaged in fighting illegal wildlife trade.


This story originally published on April 7, 2020

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