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Blogs and Stories

July 26, 2020
Amy Wade Carotenuto

An opinion on
Human Accountability
in COVID-19 and
other Zoonosis

Social distancing and wearing masks is currently our best defense against COVID-19, but as humankind, we need to look further back and consider that changing how wildlife is treated around the world could help keep deadly diseases like this out of human populations to begin with.

In the past 40 years, deadly diseases including COVID-19, SARS, Ebola, the swine flu, the avian flu and HIV/AIDS have been triggered by legal and illegal trafficking and consumption of wild animals. COVID-19 is just the latest in a long history. The CDC estimates that at least 70% of new and emerging infectious diseases are zoonosis. A zoonosis is an infectious disease caused by viruses, bacteria and/or parasites that spread between animals and humans.

Although much speculation exists about the origin of COVID-19, most epidemiology experts believe that it originated in a wild animal that was being sold at a “wet market” in China. At such markets, domestic and wild animals, live and dead, are sold for human consumption. Somewhat akin to farmer’s markets and found around the world, wet markets are typically large collections of open-air stalls selling fresh seafood, meat, fruits, and vegetables. Some wet markets slaughter and prepare live animals on site. In China, they’re a staple of daily life for many.

Wildlife markets, also found worldwide, sell wild animals for meat or as pets. The markets themselves may be legal, though they sometimes offer illegal species alongside permitted ones. It’s unknown how many wildlife markets there are throughout the world, and much of the trade in wildlife is now conducted online, making it even more difficult to track.

While most of us know nothing about wet markets or wildlife markets, the United States is one of the top importers of wildlife in the world. A significant portion of a multi billion dollar (Yes that’s Billion with a B”) industry is legal and largely unregulated. For example tens of thousands of monkeys are imported for use in medical research and tens of thousands of birds and small animals are imported for the pet trade. Permits may be required but they are cheap, and easy to get. Animals are transported under dismal conditions. Some do not survive transport.

Wildlife trade is big business often run by criminal networks, much like trafficking illegal drugs and arms, according to The United Nations. One terrorist group, the Al- Shabab is partially funded by ivory poaching.

Ecosystems are devastated by poaching and trafficking. If we are to reduce the risk catastrophic zoonotic disease outbreaks in the future, we must respect our relationships with animals. We must lower the wildlife trade, close live animal markets and protect wildlife habitat. Humanity has the ability to prevent the next pandemic.