Open letter to WHO and UN Environment Programme

COVID-19: Holistic, equitable solutions are required to improve human and planetary health and reduce zoonotic pandemic risks 

Dear Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Ms. Inger Andersen,

We, the undersigned individuals and organisations, commend the work the UN is doing to tackle the COVID-19 disease pandemic and its socio-economic consequences. The recently released UN Framework for the immediate socio-economic response to COVID-19 outlines the importance of shared responsibility and integration. However, more action is required, particularly on the environmental front. Urgent, far-reaching steps must be taken to reduce zoonotic pandemic risks and secure a better future not only for humans but also for nature, which underpins the health and well-being of all humanity. It is vital that any actions taken are appropriate and lead to socially just outcomes which contribute to – not detract from – the development of economically resilient livelihoods for those hundreds of millions of the world’s most vulnerable who depend on wild resources for their survival.

COVID-19 is inflicting unprecedented social and economic costs on countries and communities, with the poor and vulnerable hardest hit. The virus’s suspected links with a Chinese ‘wet market’ has led to calls to ban wet markets and restrict or end the trade and consumption – for medicines or food – of wildlife. However, indiscriminate bans and restrictions risk being inequitable and ineffective. Wet markets, wildlife trade and consumption, and disease risks are all complex subjects. Wet markets (not all of which sell wild meat) provide invaluable food security; billions of people worldwide trade or consume wild meat and rely on wildlife use for livelihoods, while diseases are transmitted from livestock as well as wildlife. 

There is an urgent need to tackle wildlife trade that is illegal, unsustainable or carries major risks to human health, biodiversity or animal welfare. Certain high-risk activities may rightfully necessitate targeted and/or time-bound bans, or severe restrictions (and rigorous enforcement), but it is vital that any such action is specific, appropriate, and equitable. If those targeted bans or severe restrictions are implemented, they should be accompanied by the meaningful provision of suitable alternative livelihoods for people affected. Furthermore, long-term success will require a holistic approach, including tackling issues like land conversion and industrial agriculture, which are major drivers of pandemic risk as well as biodiversity loss.  Any actions must be undertaken in a targeted and socially just manner with due regard for human rights. 

We recommend that the WHO and UNEP use their individual and collective expertise to:

    1. Work with the appropriate experts to identify areas and activities where wildlife trade and/or use poses high risks to zoonotic disease transmission, biodiversity conservation or welfare, and strengthen or develop tailored, locally appropriate strategies, with suitably improved regulation and enforcement, along the entire supply chain to reduce those risks;
    2. Initiate a coordinated response to the risks of pandemic emergence and biodiversity loss through the UN Environmental Management Group to raise intergovernmental awareness of the important role biodiversity plays in underpinning human health, the health risks associated with habitat destruction, and the value of sustainable use of biological resources (in line with Article 1 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and guided by its 2004 Addis Ababa Principles); 
    3. Build partnerships across WHO, UNEP and other key stakeholders including IUCN, FAO and WTO, to explore how health considerations could be better aligned with trade regulations within the CITES framework, in clear recognition that biodiversity loss, unregulated trade and human health are inextricably linked;
    4. Effectively engage with the CBD’s ongoing process to develop the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and associated resource mobilisation strategy to ensure biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used;
    5. Support science- and human-rights-based, equitable approaches to conservation, in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and deliver comprehensive improvements to both human and planetary health.

The reasons for our recommendations are set out in Annexe A, below the signatory list. 300 of the signatories (160 organisational signatories and 140 individual signatories) are shown below – more on online and will continue to be collected:

Organisational signatories

  1. !Khaodi // Hoas Conservancy  Kunene South, Namibia
  2. 1StopBorneo Wildlife, Brunei
  3. African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Kenya/International
  4. Afrivet, South Africa
  5. Ambrosisus A. Community Forest Kavango West, Namibia
  6. Anabeb Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  7. Asocaiman, Colombia
  8. Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, USA
  9. Association OKANI, Cameroon
  10. Aube Novelle pour la Femme et le Development (AFND), Democratic Republic of the Congo
  11. Balepye Community, South Africa
  12. Botswana Wildlife Producers Association (BWPA), Botswana
  13. Cameroon Youth Biodiversity Network, Cameroon
  14. CAMPFIRE Association, Zimbabwe
  15. CIC – International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, US/international
  16. Climate Change Coalition Group, Zimbabwe
  17. COMFAUNA (Comunidad de Manejo de Fauna Silvestre en Amazonía y América Latina, Latin America
  18. Conservation Alliance International, Ghana
  19. Conservation Alliance Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone
  20. Conservation Frontlines Foundation, USA/South Africa
  21. Conservation Outcomes, South Africa
  22. Conservation Through Public Health, Uganda
  23. Conservation Visions, Canada
  24. Creative Conservation Solutions, Australia
  25. Cuma CF Communioty Forest Kavango West, Namibia
  26. Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation-SA, South Africa
  27. Dallas Safari Club, USA
  28. Earthmind, Switzerland
  29. Eco Ranger Group, South Africa
  30. EcoHealth Alliance, USA
  31. Ecolife Expeditions, South Africa
  32. Ehirovipuka Conservancy – Kunene Region, Namibia
  33. Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa
  34. Environmental Conservation Trust of Uganda (ECOTRUST), Uganda
  35. Environmental Foundation for Africa, Sierra Leone
  36. Epupa Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  37. Erongo Regional Conservancy Association (North West), Namibia
  38. Etanga Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  39. European Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FACE), Belgium
  40. European Sustainable Use Group, UK
  41. Farm Africa, UK/International
  42. Fondation Camerounaise Terre Vivante (FCTV), Cameroon
  43. Frankfurt Zoological Society, Germany/International
  44. FundAmazonia, Peru
  45. Fur Institute of Canada (FIC), Canada
  46. Game Ranchers Forum, South Africa
  47. Gcatjinga Community Forest Kavango West, Namibia
  48. Gender CC Woman for Climate Justice, South Africa
  49. Geo Wild Consult, South Africa
  50. George Mukoya Conservancy Kavango East, Namibia
  51. Giraffe Conservation Foundation, Namibia/International
  52. Gonarezhou Conservation Trust, Zimbabwe
  53. Greenhood Nepal, Nepal
  54. Guide Outfitting Association of British Columbia, Canada
  55. Hans Kanyinga Community Forest Kavango West, Namibia
  56. Houston Safari Club, USA
  57. Huab Conservancy ( Kunene Region), Namibia
  58. Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) , Namibia
  59. Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science and Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, UK
  60. International Fur Federation, UK/International
  61. Ipumbu Ya Tshilongo ( North Central ), Namibia
  62. IUCN Group Sustainable Use and Management of Ecosystems (SUME), International
  63. IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group, International
  64. IUCN SSC Caprinae Specialist Group, International
  65. IUCN SSC-CEESP Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), International
  66. IUCN Wildlife Health Specialist Group, International
  67. Wildlife Producers Association of Zambia, Zambia
  68. IWMC World Conservation Trust, Switzerland/International
  69. Jamma International, UK/International
  70. Japan Falconiformes Center, Japan
  71. Kahenge Community Forest Kavango West, Namibia
  72. Kapinga Kabwalye Community Forest Kavango West, Namibia
  73. Kasungu Wildlife Conservation for Community Development, Malawi
  74. Katope Community Forest Kavango West, Namibia
  75. Keystone Foundation, India
  76. Kunene Conservancy Association (KRCCA), Namibia
  77. Kunene River Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  78. Likwaterera Community Forest Kavango West, Namibia
  79. Lion Landscapes, Kenya
  80. Mahenye Community Committee, Zimbabwe
  81. Malagasy Youth Biodiversity Network, Madagascar
  82. Marienfluss Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  83. Masoka CAMPFIRE Association, Zimbabwe
  84. Masoka Community, Zimbabwe
  85. Maurisi Nekaro Conservancy Kavango East, Namibia
  86. Mbeyo Community Forest Kavango West, Namibia
  87. Mbire Rural District Council, Zimbabwe
  88. Muduva Nyangana Conservancy (Kavango East), Namibia
  89. Namibia  Nature Foundation (NNF), Namibia
  90. Namibian Chamber of Environment, Namibia  
  91. Namibian Organisation of CBNRM Support Organisations (NACSO), Namibia
  92. Ncamacoro Community Forest Kavango West, Namibia
  93. Ncaute Community Forest Kavango West, Namibia
  94. Ngamiland  Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (NCONGO), Botswana
  95. Norwegian Pet Trade Association, Norway
  96. Okandundumba Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  97. Okanguati Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  98. Okatjandjakozomenje Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  99. Okondjombo Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  100. Okongoro Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  101. Ombazu Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  102. Ombombo masitu Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  103. Ombujokanguindi Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  104. Ongongo Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  105. Ornamental Fish International (OFI), The Netherlands
  106. Orupembe Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  107. Orupupa Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  108. Otjambangu Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  109. Otji West Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  110. Otjikondavirongo Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  111. Otjikongo Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  112. Otjimboyo Conservancy ( Erongo Region), Namibia
  113. Otjindjerese Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  114. Otjitanda Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  115. Otjombande Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  116. Otuzemba Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  117. Ozondundu Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  118. People for Pangolins, International
  119. Puros Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  120. Resource Africa South Africa, South Africa
  121. Resource Africa UK, UK
  122. Ruaha Carnivore Project, Tanzania
  123. Safari Club International Foundation, USA
  124. Sanitatis Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  125. Save the Rhino Trust Namibia, Namibia
  126. Sesfontein Conservancy Kunene, Namibia
  127. Sheya Shuushona Conservancy ( North Central Regions), Namibia
  128. Sidinda Community Comiittee, Zimbabwe
  129. Sikunga Conservancy ( Zambezi Region), Namibia
  130. Sorris Sorris Conservancy ( Southern Kunene), Namibia
  131. South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association, South Africa
  132. South African Wingshooters Association , South Africa
  133. South African Youth Biodiversity Network, South Africa
  134. South Asia Reptile Conservation Alliance, International
  135. Southern African Wildlife Management Association, South Africa
  136. Stellenbosch University, South Africa
  137. Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN), Uganda
  138. Sustainable Users Network (SUN), UK
  139. Tanzania Natural Resources Forum (TNRF), Tanzania
  140. The Conservation Coalition Botswana (TCCB), Botswana
  141. The Development Institute, Ghana
  142. The Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA), South Africa
  143. The Wildlife Society, USA
  144. Torra Conservancy Kunene South, Namibia
  145. Tsiseb Conservancy (Erongo Region), Namibia
  146. Uibasen Conservancy (Southern Kunene) , Namibia
  147. Uukwaludhi Conservancy (North Central Regions), Namibia
  148. Wild Africa Conservation, Niger  
  149. Wild Sheep Foundation, USA
  150. Wildlife & Environment Society of Southern Africa, South Africa
  151. Wildlife Environmental Society of Malawi, Malawi
  152. Wildlife Producers Association, South Africa
  153. Wildlife Producers Association of Zambia, Zambia
  154. Wildlife Ranching South Africa, South Africa
  155. WILDOCEANS, South Africa
  156. Women Environmental Programme (WEP), Nigeria
  157. Women in Conservation ( Kunene Region), Namibia
  158. Working Dogs for Conservation, USA
  159. Zambia CBNRM Association, Zambia
  160. Zambia National Community Resources Board Association, Zambia

Individual signatories

  1. Vanessa Adams, University of Tasmania, Australia
  2. Steve Alexander, Conservation and Wildlife Fund, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
  3. Benjamin Allen, University of Southern Queensland, Australia
  4. Shaista Andleeb, Wuhan University of Technology, China
  5. Peter Apps, Botswana Predator Conservation, Botswana
  6. Michael Archer, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia
  7. Nathan J Bennett, IUCN CEESP/SSC SULi Central Asia, Canada
  8. Duan Biggs, Griffith University, Australia
  9. Bernd Blossey, Cornell University, USA
  10. Hollie Booth, ICCS, University of Oxford, UK
  11. Adri Kitshoff Botha, Wildlife Ranching South Africa, South Africa
  12. Peadar Brehony, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK
  13. Peter Bridgewater, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Netherlands
  14. Stephanie Brittain, Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, UK
  15. Christopher Brown, Namibian Chamber of Environment, Namibia
  16. Francois du Toit, Project Africa, Sweden
  17. Donna-Maree Cawthorn, University of Mpumalanga, South Africa
  18. Dan Challender, University of Oxford, UK
  19. Philippe Chardonnet, IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group, France
  20. Brian Child, University of Florida, USA
  21. Simon Clulow, Macquarie University, Australia
  22. John Clulow, University of Newcastle, Australia
  23. Peter Coals GR, WildCRU, University of Oxford, UK
  24. Bernard Coetzee, Global Change Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
  25. Calvin Cottar, Cottars Wildlife Conservation Trust, Kenya
  26. Alayne Cotterill, WildCRU, University of Oxford, UK
  27. Marianne Courouble, International Biodiversity Consulting, France
  28. Jeremy Cusack, Universidad Mayor, Santiago, Chile
  29. Harriet Davies-Mostert, Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa
  30. Emiel de Lange, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, UK
  31. Amy Dickman, WildCRU, University of Oxford, UK
  32. Egil Droge, WildCRU, University of Oxford, UK
  33. Morné du Plessis, WWF South Africa, South Africa
  34. Byron du Preez, Jesus College, University of Oxford, UK
  35. Holly Dublin, IUCN SULi, Kenya
  36. Sarah Durant, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, UK
  37. John E. Fa, CIFOR, UK
  38. Christo Fabricius, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa and member of IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP), South Africa
  39. Ruth Feber,  WildCRU, University of Oxford, UK
  40. Marco Festa-Bianchet, Canada
  41. Svein A. Fosså, Norwegian Pet Trade Association (NZB), Norway
  42. Edson Gandiwa, Chinhoyi University of Technology, Zimbabwe
  43. Tuqa Jirmo, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya
  44. Jenny A. Glikman, San Diego Zoo, USA
  45. Paul Goriup, NatureBureau, UK
  46. Andrea Griffin , University of Newcastle , Australia
  47. Sunetra Gupta, University of Oxford, UK
  48. John Hanks,  Independent Environmental Consultant,  South Africa
  49. Darragh Hare, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, USA
  50. Alasdair Harris, Blue Ventures, UK
  51. Adam Hart, University of Gloucestershire, UK
  52. Matt Hayward, University of Newcastle, Australia
  53. Juan Herrero, Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain
  54. Rachel Hoffmann, University of Cambridge, UK
  55. Hiromasa Igota, Rakuno Gakuen University, Japan
  56. Wei JI, IUCN SULi, China
  57. Paul Johnson, University of Oxford, UK
  58. Khalil Karimov, IUCN CEESP/SSC SULi, Tajikistan
  59. Graham I.H. Kerley, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa
  60. Ambika Khatiwada, National Trust for Nature Conservation, Nepal
  61. Rebecca Klein, Cheetah Conservation Botswana, Botswana
  62. Emmanuel Koro, Environmental journalist, South Africa
  63. Paige Lee, IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group, UK
  64. Gabriela Lichtenstein, National Research Council (CONICET), Argentina
  65. Mohsin Lee Likoniwalla, Animal Care Centre, Nairobi, Kenya
  66. Xin Liu, China Northeast Forestry University, China
  67. Ewan Macdonald, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK
  68. Ian Macdonald, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  69. Duncan MacFadyen, Oppenheimer Generations, South Africa
  70. Masego Madzawmuse, IUCN CEESP and Southern Africa Trust, South Africa 
  71. Prince Dipati Maenetja, Balepye Community, South Africa
  72. Reuben Malema, BE Products (Pty) Ltd, South Africa
  73. Stefan Michel, IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), Germany
  74. EJ Milner-Gulland, University of Oxford, UK
  75. Nick Mitchell, Zoological Society of London, UK
  76. Axel Moehrenschlager, Centre for Conservation Research, Calgary Zoological Society, Canada
  77. Vik Mohan, Blue Ventures, UK
  78. Tom Moorhouse, University of Oxford, UK
  79. Paola Mosig Reidl, CONABIO, Mexico
  80. Victor K. Muposhi, Chinhoyi University of Technology, Zimbabwe
  81. Aibat Muzbay, Kazakhstan Wildlife Foundation, Kazakhstan
  82. Naveen Namboothri, Dakshin Foundation, India
  83. Eric Djomo Nana, Agricultural Research Institute for Development (IRAD), Cameroon
  84. Robert Nasi, CIFOR, Indonesia
  85. Daniel Natusch, EPIC Biodiversity, Australia and France
  86. Helen Newing, ICCS, University of Oxford, UK
  87. Germain Ngandjui, Cameroon Canada Biodiversity Conservation Association, Cameroon
  88. Andrew Norton, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), UK
  89. Christine Nyangweso, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya
  90. Mike O’Brien, Fur Institute of Canada, Canada
  91. Alegria Olmedo, University of Oxford, UK
  92. Meera Anna Oommen, Dakshin Foundation, India
  93. Josep Oriol, Okavango Capital, Kenya
  94. Norman Owen-Smith, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
  95. Elisa Panjang, University of Cardiff, UK
  96. Despina Symons Pirovolidou, European Bureau for Conservation and Development (EBCD), Belgium
  97. Gail Potgieter, Felines Communication and Conservation Consultants, Namibia
  98. Madhu Ramnath, NTFP Exchange Programme India, India
  99. David Roberts, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, UK
  100. Tim Roberts , University of Newcastle , UK
  101. Dilys Roe, IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group and International Institute for Environment and Development, UK
  102. Ramón Peréz Gil Salcido, FAUNUM, Mexico
  103. Lilian Sales, University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil
  104. Chris Sandbrook, University of Cambridge, UK
  105. Ed Sayer, North Luangwa Conservation Programme, Zambia
  106. Charlotte Searle, WildCRU, Universty of Oxford, UK
  107. Catherine E. Semcer, Property and Environment Research Center, USA
  108. Orynbassar Shaimukhanbetov, Kazakhstan Wildlife Foundation, Kazakhstan
  109. Kartik Shanker, Indian Institute of Science and Dakshin Foundation, India
  110. Pasang Dolma Sherpa, Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Research and Development (CIPRED), Nepal
  111. Janusz Sielicki, Falcon Society, Poland
  112. Keith Somerville, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, UK
  113. Anna Spenceley, IUCN WCPA Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group, UK
  114. Oliver Springate-Baginski, School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia, UK
  115. Aarthi Sridhar, Dakshin Foundation, India
  116. Don Stacey, Masebe Ranch, Zambia
  117. Mark Stanley-Price, WildCRU, University of Oxford, UK
  118. Paolo Strampelli, WildCRU, University of Oxford, UK
  1. Cedric Thibaut Kamogne Tagne, Fondation Camerounaise de la terre Vivante (FCTV), Cameroon
  2. Simo Talla, University of Yaoundé, Cameroon
  3. Francis Nchembi Tarla, Central African Bushmeat Action Group (CABAG), Cameroon
  4. Taye Teferi , IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), International
  5. Scott Trageser, The Biodiversity Group, USA
  6. Piotr Tryjanowski, Poznan University of Life Sciences, Poland
  7. Michael ’t Sas-Rolfes, University of Oxford, UK
  8. Dino Tumazos, COLCOM, Zimbabwe
  9. Andrew van Heerden , The Conservation Imperative, South Africa
  10. Nathalie VanVliet, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), France
  11. Diogo Veríssimo, ICCS, University of Oxford, UK
  12. Karl Vernes, University of New England, Australia
  13. Frederick J Verreynne, Botswana Wildlife Producers Association, Botswana
  14. Jako Volschenk, University of Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa
  15. Francis Vorhies, African Leadership University, Rwanda
  16. Gretchen Walters, Institute of Geography and Sustainability, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
  17. Dominic Whitmee, The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA), UK
  18. Matthew Wijers, WildCRU, University of Oxford, UK
  19. Jane Wiltshire, Fellow of the African Wildlife Economics Institute of the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
  20. James Wood, University of Cambridge, UK
  21. Shibao Wu, South China Normal University, China
  22. Mary Wykstra, Action for Cheetahs in Kenya, Kenya

 Annexe A

  1. Pandemic risk reduction measures must not exacerbate poverty and inequality

Since its inception, the WHO has defined health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being’. Health is inextricably linked to nature, which underpins our physical and mental wellbeing, and to poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic is far more than an immediate health crisis: it is also unleashing unprecedented economic and social chaos. It is currently estimated to be costing the global economy US$1 trillion in 2020 alone, with the International Labour Organisation predicting cutbacks equivalent to nearly 200 million full-time workers in just three months. Marginalised and vulnerable communities are likely to bear the brunt of these impacts, with UNDP warning that nearly half the jobs in Africa could be lost. Worldwide, nearly half a billion more people could be pushed into poverty, with the crisis disproportionately affecting women, leading to wide-ranging social impacts including human rights abuses,. Over half the global population could be living in poverty after the pandemic, with particularly severe impacts in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East8

As the COVID-19 crisis will deepen poverty and damage health, potentially for generations, it is unconscionable that measures aimed at preventing future pandemics should compound this by further disadvantaging the world’s most vulnerable people, for instance through indiscriminate bans on food markets, or unnecessary restrictions on wildlife trade. Millions of poorer households, especially in rural areas, are particularly dependent upon using wild resources for livelihoods and as insurance against economic shocks, whilst in urban areas millions more rely upon affordable produce from wet markets for food security.  Over a billion people worldwide, including Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs), rely on using and trading wildlife, by selling and consuming wild meat, fish, insects and plants, extracting timber and forest products, and many other activities. Many of these activities are legal, regulated and essential for livelihoods, and pose no significant threat to human health or biodiversity – indeed, when well regulated, wildlife trade can actually be beneficial for conservation. Indiscriminate restrictions risk unnecessarily exacerbating poverty and inequality without commensurate benefits. 

  1. Wildlife trade must be addressed in a targeted, tailored and effective way 

Wildlife trade, particularly in ‘wet markets’, has become a central part of the discourse around COVID-19, and it has been suggested that banning wet markets, and banning or severely restricting wildlife trade and consumption, could reduce future pandemic risks. However, these are complex topics. Wet markets underpin the informal food systems on which millions of urban and rural people depend. They sell a range of fresh produce: fruit and vegetables, fish, livestock and, sometimes, wildlife. Wildlife trade and consumption encompasses a wide variety of species, both common and rare, and a vast array of uses including food, medicines, clothing, textiles, pets and ornaments. Its drivers and dynamics are complex and varied. Even if wildlife trade bans were just focused on food, it is important to note that zoonotic diseases also emerge from domestic species. Focusing on Asian markets also ignores the fact that billions of people, in both the Global North and South, consume wild meat from both common and ‘exotic’ species. Furthermore, current proposals to ban all wildlife trade undermine both the spirit and efficacy of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which seeks to regulate trade for the benefit of species conservation and enable trade that is legal, sustainable, and supportive of conservation and human livelihoods.  It would be more productive for the WHO, UNEP and other stakeholders to work with CITES to align human health considerations with the objectives of the Convention.  

Suggestions that pandemics could be avoided by imposing a global ban on wildlife markets or indiscriminately restricting wildlife trade are simplistic and risk enormous unintended consequences, including criminalising and further impoverishing countless people. Externally-imposed bans can drive trade underground and enmesh it with other organised criminal activity, as occurred after the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak. In that situation, regulations would become harder to enforce, with lower standards of hygiene and animal welfare, and higher likelihood of zoonotic disease outbreak. Furthermore, demand may remain if a legal supply is suddenly removed (especially if captive breeding is also banned, as some recommend9), risking a rise in black market prices and increased incentives for poaching. This could accelerate the exploitation and extinction of species in the wild. The risks associated with indiscriminate trade restrictions highlight the need for targeted regulation and enforcement tailored to each specific situation, at the appropriate level. This will increase the likelihood of achieving desired outcomes for conservation, health and animal welfare, while reducing unintended consequences for people and wildlife. 

  1. Holistic, far-sighted solutions are required to improve human and planetary health

This pandemic is a wake-up call with regard to our destructive relationship with nature. Wildlife trade is only one of many factors that must be addressed to reduce zoonotic disease outbreaks, secure biodiversity and improve human and planetary health. Habitat destruction and industrial agriculture play key roles in increasing zoonotic disease transmission from wildlife to humans, as people and their livestock come into ever closer proximity to wild species and pathogens. In addition to catastrophic ecological impacts, the destruction of nature, in conjunction with climate change, has long-term, devastating impacts on human physical and mental health. 

The role of domestic species in zoonotic outbreaks such as pandemic influenza must also be considered. Disease risks and welfare in farmed-animal supply chains should also be examined robustly, with risk reduction strategies targeted at the highest-risk species, whether domestic or wild. More widely, holistic approaches should be developed which look beyond pandemics, such as limiting antibiotic use in livestock to reduce risks of antibiotic resistance, which poses a major danger to human health. Business as usual cannot continue, and the WHO and UNEP are well positioned to encourage governments and other agencies to fully recognise the interconnected nature of planetary and human health. There is a need for a ‘One Health’ coordinated approach both across the UN, including the WHO, UNEP, UNDP and the FAO, and beyond with other relevant organisations including the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This synergistic approach would help develop and deliver a better, more equitable future for humans and the ecosystems which underpin our society. 


The response to COVID-19 has demonstrated that transformational action is possible if governments and citizens are convinced that the risks of inaction outweigh the costs. We urgently need similar transformational action to safeguard nature, delivering critical long-term benefits for both human and planetary health as part of our response to COVID-19. Robust, long-lasting measures must be taken to safeguard and adequately fund the protection of nature and invest in science- and rights-based conservation and restoration. Devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic is, recovery from this crisis provides an unparalleled moment to create a better and more sustainable future. We must change our relationship with nature and develop appropriate strategies to equitably and sustainably manage the biodiversity upon which so many livelihoods depend. Changes must be inclusive, well-considered and socially and economically just, and every care must be taken not to exacerbate poverty and amplify existing inequalities. 

The sustainable and inclusive management of nature is recognised throughout the UN as a key element to achieving poverty reduction objectives and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. Indiscriminate restrictions on wildlife trade will devastate livelihoods, cause major harm to human health and well-being and undermine human rights, without significant benefits for biodiversity or health. Strategic, equitable, coordinated and holistic approaches are more likely to reduce pandemic risks, achieve a better future for both human and planetary health, and should be a core component of future WHO/UNEP recommendations.

CC: Achim Steiner, Administrator UNDP

Elizabeth M. Mrema, Acting Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD 

Qu Dongyu, Director General, Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO

Ivonne Higuero, CITES Secretary General

Grethel Aguilar, Acting Director General, IUCN

Michelle Bachelet, UN Human Rights Commissioner

David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment

David Nabarro, Special Envoy to WHO DG on COVID-19




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