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World Health, Wildlife, and Wet Markets: Creating a Global Response to End Wildlife Crime

By Lorelei Goodall

On March 3, 2020, the United Nations marked World Wildlife Day with the introduction of the End Wildlife Crime Initiative. Put forward as a way to encourage nations to fill international enforcement gaps, the agreement is intended to “unif[y] global action” and to “stop the decline of ecosystems, reverse the extinction crisis facing wild animals and plants, and eliminate threats to human health.” Under this new initiative, there are several proposed solutions to the increasingly apparent breach in international trade governance. One solution includes the adoption of a protocol on wildlife crime under the UN, which would include new regulations on trade and wildlife such as bans on wildlife consumption and trade in relation to wet markets. Such measures may include bans on high-risk wet markets on the basis of public health like banning entry to non regulated markets. A second proposed solution includes a new agreement with the World Health Organization to instill revised regulations and guidelines to wildlife trade and consumption. The third proposed solution includes amending the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) guidelines to include public health guidelines and enforcement methods to decrease the possibility of the next global pandemic. According to John E. Scanlon, a previous secretary to CITES, amending and including new clauses in the Convention would be the most cost-effective and fastest way to fill this gap in international wildlife trade.

Pangolin reaching through cage.
Arief Budi Kusuma /

The aim of CITES is “to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.” As of now, the current Secretary-General of CITES, Ivonne Higuero, has done little to begin the amendment process and to further the outreach of this international agreement. Moreover, she has released little information on what guidelines may be put in place to avoid future zoonotic based pandemics. This leads to the idea that the subsection of the UN devoted to wildlife consumption and protection may not be ready to combat the ever-increasing need to regulate and innovate to protect the public at large from pandemics.

If, in theory, CITES were changed in the near future to include clauses on public health and safety by regulating breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases such as wet markets and ban certain wildlife consumptive practices, the results would be extremely beneficial to wildlife-dependent communities. Well-managed security can create law and stability, thus increasing tourism, sequestering carbon, combating poaching, protecting biodiversity, and creating local jobs. This would create a more stable surrounding economy to the countries most susceptible to illegal wildlife trade and overall improve the quality of life for thousands of individuals. There has been a success with this system in the DRC, more specifically Garamba National Parks. For now, the only thing holding back the possibility of change for the good is the inaction of CITES officials. Change can only happen when those who can make a difference use their power. CITES needs strong leadership at this point in history to enforce new laws and prevent future pandemics as a whole. This process may take months, but the outcome could save the world from the next global pandemic and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

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