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UN report: Wildlife trafficking increases risk of pandemics like Covid-19

  • Published at 09:24 pm July 12th, 2020
Photo: Dhaka Tribune

The report was prepared by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and is available on their website. It is the second World Wildlife Crime Report, with the first released in 2016

Preventing wildlife crimes and trafficking, is an important avenue to reducing the risk of future zoonotic pandemics like the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, according to the UN World Wildlife Crime Report 2020.

The report was prepared by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and is available on their website. It is the second World Wildlife Crime Report, with the first released in 2016.

Data collection and analysis for the 2020 report was concluded prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, a section was added to address the drastic change in global circumstances brought about by the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the vast subsequent harms to human and economic well being have starkly illustrated the potential global impact of zoonotic diseases, for which wildlife trade, both legal and illegal, is a potential vector,” the report said.

Quoting the World Health Organization, the report also said around 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases that have affected humans over the past three decades originated in animals (zoonotic diseases).    

“COVID-19 is likely linked to a pathogen found in wild bats that is suspected to have passed to humans, possibly via an intermediary,” it added.

Illegally sourced wildlife escapes sanitary controls and exposes humans to the transmission of new viruses and pathogens.

“Without human interference through capturing, slaughtering, selling, trafficking, trading and consuming of wildlife, the evolution and transmission of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 would have been highly unlikely,” the report said.

 “Transnational organized crime networks are reaping the profits of wildlife crime, but it is the poor who are paying the price,” said Ghada Waly, executive director of UNODC, reports UNB.

Trafficking of pangolins rises 10-fold

Seizures of pangolin scales increased tenfold between 2014 and 2018, putting them among the most trafficked wild mammals in the world. 

Pangolin products have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat a wide range of ailments, and the trafficking of such products may increase in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, with them being touted as “cures,” the report said.

In the last decade, about 6,000 species were seized, which include mammals, reptiles, coral, birds, and fish.

No single country was identified as the source of more than 9% of the total number of seized shipments, while suspected traffickers represented roughly 150 nationalities, underscoring the global nature of these crimes.

Illegal tropical wood on the rise

The UNODC report also analyzed the markets for illicit rosewood, ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, live reptiles, big cats, and the European eel. 

According to the report, trends show the demand for African ivory and rhino horn is in decline, indicating that the market for them is smaller than previously suggested. 

It is estimated that these two items generated more than $600 million annually between 2016 and 2018, the report said. 

Meanwhile, demand for tropical hardwood timber has risen significantly over the past two decades. Illegal African rosewood has even entered legitimate supply chains in the furniture trade. 

At the same time, seizures of tiger products have also been on the rise, alongside traffickers’ interest in other big cat parts that can serve as substitutes. 

Wildlife trade has also gone digital, with traffickers selling live reptiles and tiger bone products, among other items, through online platforms and encrypted messaging apps. 

Cross-border coordination critical

UNODC believes stopping wildlife crime is critical to protecting biodiversity and the rule of law, but also for preventing future public health emergencies. 

The report underscored the need for stronger criminal justice systems and improved international cooperation and cross-border investigations, among other measures. 

Waly said: “To protect people and the planet in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, and to build back better from the COVID-19 crisis, we cannot afford to ignore wildlife crime.” 

She also said: “The 2020 World Wildlife Crime Report can help to keep this threat high on the international agenda and increase support for governments to adopt the necessary legislation, and develop the inter-agency coordination and capacities needed to tackle wildlife crime offences.”

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