“Persecution including killing of wild animals suspected of transmitting diseases will not address the causes of the emergence or spread of zoonotic diseases.”
The scale and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means that we require a focused and coordinated response if we are to successfully mitigate the emergence or spread of zoonotic diseases in the future. This is in contrast to any knee-jerk reactions which might directly target individual wildlife species.
This is why the third principle outlined in the recent CPW joint statement addresses the need to avoid the persecution of wild animals suspected of transmitting diseases.
Looking to persecute wild animals that may, or may not, carry wildlife diseases fails to tackle the underlying causes and risk factors of disease spillover.
For the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases, the key drivers are habitat encroachment and destruction by human activity, as well as biodiversity loss and its impact on the ability of ecosystems to contain disease as part of a healthy, living system.
Within the context of COVID-19, persecuting or killing wildlife species, such as bats, will have little impact on the worldwide pandemic, as it is human-to-human transmission that is causing the increase in cases.
Furthermore, in the case of bats, killings would also put populations at risk, while losing their positive pest regulation and pollination functions.
Persecution can go beyond simply killing wild animals suspected of transmitting disease. Targeting whole sectors, as we have seen with wildlife trade, without full consideration of the consequences, may fail to tackle the issues at hand and worse still, can create worse overall outcomes.
Banning wildlife trade would, firstly, impact the lives of countless indigenous people and rural communities (IPLCs) that rely on the harvest, use and trade of wildlife resources as part of their livelihoods.
Not only this, but evidence has shown that measures such as this can actually have the opposite of the desired effect.
It is suggested that banning wildlife trade would drive trade underground and into black markets, making it more difficult to monitor and regulate, while also removing incentives for local people to conserve, sustainably use resources, and maintain ecosystem health.
This was observed in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak in 2013-2016, where the removal of legal, wild meat triggered an increase in black market activity and its associated risks, such as a surge in poaching, and the loss of standards for hygiene and animal welfare.
This highlights the need for wildlife management policies that are created to strengthen global health security to be based on sound science, rather than common sentiment.