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PRESS RELEASE: A call to the World Health Organisation to assist in a permanent ban on wildlife market

06 April 2020

Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, Blood Lions together with over 240 leading animal welfare and conservation organisations from around the world call on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to publicly and unequivocally state the proven link between live wildlife markets, and the serious and established threats to human health.

They further urge the WHO to recommend that governments worldwide permanently ban live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine, in line with its stated mission to serve public health at all times.

The most authoritative voice on infectious diseases in the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director – National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) stated last week that “it just boggles my mind…, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface that we don’t just shut [wildlife markets] down.” He called for the international community to put pressure on governments to force a global closure of live wildlife markets.

Acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, adds weight to this discussion by stating that “countries should move to prevent future pandemics by banning “wet markets” that sell live and dead animals for human consumption.”

Blood Lions calls on Dr. Zwelini Mkhize (Minister of Health) and Prof Lynn Morris (Interim Executive Director – National Institute for Communicable Diseases) to take concrete measures with regards to a national permanent ban on live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife, their products and derivatives in traditional medicine, to avert another pandemic.

The costs to South Africa as a country and the international community at large fighting a global pandemic of this nature are vastly higher than the costs of preventing a future crisis. Failure to enforce a permanent and global ban on all wildlife markets could well allow for a similar, but potentially more severe, disease to emerge in the near future.

The COVID-19 outbreak is believed to have originated at wildlife markets in China, where bats and pangolins may have been involved in the transmission chain of the virus to people. However, let’s be clear, it was the actions of people that created this environment to facilitate transmission.

Credit: Patrick George Illustration with Blood Lions Campaign

The risk of zoonotic disease transmission is heightened by the fact that most of these wildlife markets are unregulated and operate under extremely unhygienic conditions. In addition, the circumstances under which wild animals are typically farmed or collected from the wild, transported to and held at such markets are far from ideal. Overcrowded conditions with different species held in close proximity and onsite slaughter, cause immense stress on the animals weakening their immune systems. All this, coupled with the presence of people at wildlife markets, provides the ideal environment for pathogens to spread.

Blood Lions states that “South Africa could inadvertently export Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) through the export of lion bones. Bovine TB is prevalent in wild and captive lions and the risk of zoonosis is very real, not only for people in South East Asia directly involved in the consumption of lion bones products, but also for workers at the breeding farms and lion abattoirs in South Africa.”

This is not the first time that infectious diseases have been linked to wild animals in recent years. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), part of the coronavirus family, is also believed to have emerged from wildlife markets in China and resulted in more than 8,000 human cases across 29 countries, and 774 deaths. Other outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as Ebola, MERS, HIV, bovine tuberculosis, rabies, and leptospirosis, are all linked to wildlife.

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