Over 200 wildlife groups have signed an open letter calling for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to recommend closing animal markets to governments in order to prevent future pandemics like COVID-19.

A total of 241 Animal welfare groups and charities, including The RSPCA, World Animal Protection and The International Fund For Animal Welfare have signed the open letter organised by Born Free.

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is believed to have originated from a ‘wet market’ in Wuhan, China in January, where live and dead animals are slaughtered and sold as food. There has been over one and a half million cases of the virus so far, and over 90,000 deaths.

Katheryn Wise, UK campaigns manager at World Animal Protection said in a press release: “There is a clear link between the global trade in wild animals and outbreaks of disease such as the current COVID-19 outbreak.”

COVID-19 is believed to have originated in a wet market, where everything from fish to dogs are sold as food. | Photo: TrumpLadyFran, Twitter.

“We are calling on WHO to recommend closing wildlife markets to help prevent the spread of future pandemics and the daily suffering of animals in this trade.” 

Researchers suggest that pangolins could have been the intermediary host passing the virus from bats to humans. Over one million pangolins have been killed in the last ten years – the majority in Asia, where their meat is a delicacy, and their scales are used in more than 60 traditional medicines approved by the Chinese government.

Zoonotic diseases are very common, with six in every ten known infectious diseases in people estimated to spread from animals. It is believed that previous epidemics such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed nearly 800 people, and Ebola, which has killed at least 11,300 people were also caused by wildlife consumption.

Pangolins – thought to be the transmitter of coronavirus – are the world’s most trafficked mammal, largely due to its scales being used in traditional Asian medicine. | Video: Save Pangolins, YouTube.

In February, The National People’s Congress of China issued a permanent ban on the trade and consumption of non-aquatic wild animals, though there is evidence much of the dealing has moved online.

“The risk of bans is trade just goes underground, where the conditions under which dangerous zoonotic diseases may be created and spread are likely to be much higher”, Dr Richard Thomas head of communications at animal trade organisation Traffic said.

“Rather we are encouraging measures to be brought in to regulate and monitor animal trade to mitigate against disease risk – this means developing systems with input from experts across a range of disciplines, including health, veterinary, virologists and epidemiologists.”

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