COVID-19 is causing massive disruption to everyone’s work and lives. Hundreds of thousands have become ill, many fatally so. It appears this crisis originated with humans’ unsustainable approach to the exploitation of wildlife (plants and animals)—in this instance, wildlife trafficking. Wildlife trafficking is a commercial enterprise that entails illegal poaching, taking, and trade of wildlife.
Experts believe that the current coronavirus likely originated with the close interaction with wildlife—that may have been illegally trafficked—in a live animal market in Wuhan, China. The disease may have originated in bats and moved to an intermediary host—possibly the highly endangered pangolin, the most trafficked mammal on earth—from which the disease jumped to humans.
We have been here before. SARS, Ebola, and HIV all likely originated from the exploitation of wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Now is the time to learn from our past actions. We must put an end to wildlife trafficking immediately. And, we must stop the unsustainable exploitation of wildlife more broadly. This is the second leading cause of the biodiversity crisis.
The destruction of biodiversity, including the poaching and trafficking of wildlife, puts people in incredible danger in a variety of ways: it spreads disease, jeopardizes security, undermines the rule of law, and threatens local economies that depend on nature. This current situation helps to crystalize that good wildlife policy and conservation funding, including for enforcement, must be a very high priority to protect our health, communities, and future.
Finally, it is essential to recognize that humans have all contributed to the biodiversity crisis we face, with a million species at risk of extinction in the near future. But this is no excuse for racial, ethnic, or other discrimination or retaliation. Cultures across the globe, including ours and yours, engage in some practices that are not compatible with protecting the diversity of life that exists on our planet and ourselves. And every culture has something to mend and contribute to global efforts to protect our gift of biodiversity that sustains us all. We applaud countries that have re-acknowledged the threats of wildlife trafficking by establishing and enforcing permanent bans on this illegal and deadly trade. Protecting all endangered species is now more important than ever