Animals in the time of Coronavirus: Why it’s time to think positive
As we all guiltily binge-watched Netflix’s hit ‘documentary’, “Tiger King: Mayhem, Murder and Madness”, and revelled in its larger-than-life characters, we must be serious for a moment: the trade of exotic animals is a highly lucrative and unregulated business. In Europe, we have our own Tiger Kings.
Where does regulation stand at the EU level? The EU mostly settles for the current CITES regulation. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international norms system that began in the 1970s, that regulates international trade in over 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives. It ensures their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment.
Illegal wildlife trade is a flourishing business, comparable to the traffic of drugs and weapons, and amounts to 7 to 23 billion dollars annually, according to a UNEP-Interpol report. Therefore, it was a welcome announcement when the European Commission pledged in its EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, published on the 20th of May, that it “will take a number of steps to crack down on illegal wildlife trade”. The Commission said that, among other things, it will revise its EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking in 2021.
This communication was initially scheduled to be released two months ago, but due to the current pandemic that has been shaking the continent and the world, it could only come out now. COVID-19 can, in fact, be directly linked to the necessity of strengthening the future Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking.
The COVID-19 outbreak has dramatically shone a light on how wildlife markets, as well as the use of wildlife for traditional medicine, represents severe risks for zoonotic disease transmission. The proximity with humans provides a path for the transmission of dangerous pathogens. Wildlife markets, like the one in Wuhan from where COVID-19 is supposed to have originated, exist all around the world, and the European continent is a central hub of transport and trade for the lucrative business of wildlife trade. Besides wet markets, it is not uncommon to come across monkey meat in Brussels, or European baby eels in Asia.