As the world continues to reel from the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic – over one and a half million deaths, almost 75 million people sickened, long-term health effects, ruined businesses, and crashed economies, experts are asking what we can do to prevent the next one.
There is an emerging consensus that banning the global wildlife trade would be a significant step.
HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and (now infamously) COVID-19 are some of the deadliest and most disruptive infectious diseases to have emerged in the last century.
Like 75% of emerging infectious diseases today, these pathogens came from animals – mainly wild animals.
Humans would normally never find themselves in contact with the kinds of wild animals that carry deadly viruses, which often don’t even sicken the carrier animal. But the booming, multibillion-dollar wildlife trade has brought humans into direct contact with bats, civets, pangolins, monkeys, apes, chimpanzees, and countless other species.
These poachers, hunters, and breeders may not know the health risk they are taking. Those who are aware do it because people are willing to pay a very high price for the animals or their parts.
Regulation is lax or non-existent, domestically and internationally. Animals end up in markets, stacked in cages inches away from other species, creating conditions ripe for the spread of disease.
While most Canadians consider this to be something more common in other countries, many fail to realize that Canada has its own robust, and largely unregulated, trade-in wildlife for fur, entertainment, and exotic pets.
These animals are sold online, in pet stores and exotic pet expos. Many are transported across the country in mobile petting zoos to schools, birthday parties, and long-term care homes, a situation that appals some infectious disease experts.
“If we could do one thing to prevent the next pandemic, it should be to ban the global wildlife trade,” says Melissa Matlow, Campaign Director with World Animal Protection Canada.
“The trade-in wild animals isn’t just cruel. It puts everyone, everywhere at risk.”
This is a global problem that requires a global solution. Every country has a role to play in curbing the wildlife trade. Representatives of the organization have been hosting video meetings to brief Members of Parliament and push for change.
They are calling on Canada to take measures to end the import and domestic trade in wild animals and wild animal products, and encourage other countries to do the same. A recent poll by Northstar Research Partners shows that Canadians are largely in favour of this.
World Animal Protection Canada has also launched a petition on its website, which has already been signed by over 50,000 Canadians. They join a million citizens globally who are calling on other G20 nations to act.
Matlow is heartened by the receptiveness she is seeing to the message, but concrete action remains frustratingly slow. “We are encouraged by the increasing support we’re receiving from the public and MPs.”