Illegal Wildlife Markets Pose Widespread Ecological, Health and Economic Risks

Bushmeat consumption has been a feature of many African cultures for millennia. Historically obtained primarily for subsistence use in rural communities, today it is increasingly sold commercially within densely populated African urban centers and trafficked internationally to the United States and Europe. In Asia, wild meat is often seen as a healthy and more nutritious alternative to farmed, and freshly slaughtered animals are preferred. Some wild species are believed to have medicinal properties beneficial to the consumer, while others are considered luxury items thanks to their rarity and high price, drawing in those looking to showcase their wealth or close a business deal.

The illegal commercial wildlife and wild meat trade heavily exploits wildlife and is depleting populations, putting many species squarely on a path toward extinction. But the dangers extend well beyond threats to biodiversity and the economic losses from their potential disappearance, impacting human health on a tremendous scale. The recent coronavirus outbreak has graphically demonstrated the risk of live animal markets and bushmeat trade in terms of introducing new diseases with the consequent enormous loss of human lives and economic impact. Though the crisis emerged in China, it’s crucial that all major commercial bushmeat markets around the world are shut down. 

  • ~6 million
    tons of bushmeat is extracted from the Amazon and the Congo Basin each year
  • 97%
    of Chinese are “strongly” against eating wildlife, according to a 2020 Peking University survey
  • More than 17 million
    views of our 2017 PSA with Asian pop star and actor Jay Chou warning of the potential health risks of consuming pangolin meat

Making an Impact

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on February 24th, 2020, China adopted a decision to ban the consumption of most wild animals and to severely crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. In Vietnam, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered a Directive on banning wildlife trade and consumption. As Africa’s population is set to double by 2050 to 2.2 billion, urban areas will face many of the same public health risks as Chinese, Indonesian or Philippine cities where live animal markets are common. 

With the current resolve at top levels of government in China and other countries affected by this pandemic to end or significantly restrict the wildlife trade, now is the moment to push forward on specific initiatives for effective and permanent action. We are currently working hard to develop two critical initiatives: permanently closing wildlife markets in Asia and ending urban bushmeat consumption in Africa. 

We are:

  1. Building on the current surge in public support and political resolve in China, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries to permanently ban wildlife markets and restaurants and to end consumer demand for wildlife products.
  2. Working with governments and partners in Africa, beginning in Uganda, Gabon, Nigeria, and Cameroon, to shut down the commercial bushmeat trade and reduce urban consumption, particularly of illegal species. We are urging governments to strengthen laws, increase penalties, prioritize enforcement, and educate the public on the health, economic and ecological risks.

While we remain hopeful that new regulations and strong enforcement will help put an end to the wildlife markets and trade, we must build on this critical moment to institute as comprehensive and permanent prohibitions and changes as possible.

To maximize our impact for urgent action, we have joined with Global Wildlife Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to form the Coalition to End the Trade. Together, we will implement key wildlife conservation strategies, including reducing demand, phasing out supply chains, active monitoring for pathogens, and developing new opportunities for local communities dependent on wildlife consumption. By collaborating on a common set of priorities, we believe we can mobilize an effective response on a global scale.

With global attention on the health risks of wild meat consumption, now is the time to act quickly to ensure a permanent end to commercial trade and sale of terrestrial wild animals for consumption in urban markets, and that demand for such products is eradicated for the benefit of both humans and wildlife.