Wildlife & Biodiversity

Tremendous momentum in China to address illegal wildlife trade: Expert

Animal welfare professional Grace Ge Gabriel says that China has recognised illegal wildlife trade to be COVID-19’s root cause

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Thursday 30 April 2020
A Chinese wet market. Photo: pxfuel

There is tremendous momentum in China to address the issue of illegal wildlife trade as both, the government and people, have recognised it to be the root cause of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), an animal welfare expert said on April 29, 2020.

Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) non-profit, made the statement while conversing with Indian conservationist and director of non-profit, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), Vivek Menon.

The conversation, ‘The wet markets: Illegal wildlife trade, species extinction and human health’ is part of the Jaipur Literature Festival’s ‘Brave New World’, an online series started by the organisers recently.

“I have seen an unprecedented response since China has recognised that wildlife trading is responsible for COVID-19. The National People’s Congress has banned the consumption of wildlife for food indefinitely till China revises its wildlife protection law,” Gabriel said in answer to a question by Menon on whether changes are afoot in China in the wake of the pandemic.

Even more importantly, she added, some local non-profits in the country had started an online survey in February this year, asking respondents whether all wildlife trade should be banned. “Of the 100,000 responses, 95.4 per cent responded saying all such trade should be banned,” Gabriel said.

And while the Chinese government has not yet banned trade in wildlife for medicine and as exotic pets, there is, nevertheless tremendous momentum in China to address the issue, Gabriel said.

‘Come together’

Gabriel and Menon also talked at length about how nature and human health were interlinked as the pandemic had shown.

“In the last 30-40 years, economic development has been China’s trump card. That elevated China economically, but at what cost? When I grew up in China, I was able to swim in the river and not worry about air pollution,” said Gabriel.

In response to Menon’s query on whether humanity could control its greed and exploitation of nature, Gabriel said, “Legal loopholes allowed wildlife farming and started this pandemic in the first place. But how much can wildlife farming contribute to a nation’s Gross Domestic Product, compared to the loss to the world economy currently due to COVID-19? There is no comparison.”

The pandemic, she noted, was a wake-up call. “We need to put commercial interests on the side and protect ecosystems because it is not just about protecting your country’s economy. It is protecting the globe’s safety and health,” said Gabriel.  

She also said the world must be united in the fight against COVID-19. “Some politicians outside China have politicised the pandemic. Racial comments, finger pointing — it hurts. Global political will is necessary to fight a pandemic,” she said.

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