Future Pandemics Threat From Illegal Wildlife Trade

Pangolins confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade in Viet Nam host SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses. A study led by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has confirmed.

An oral swab is collected from a pangolin by WCS wildlife health professionals at a wildlife rescue center in Viet Nam. Samples collected from pangolins confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade were screened for coronaviruses and other pathogens at Vietnamese research and diagnostic laboratories. Image credit: WCS Viet Nam

Previously, only pangolins confiscated in China had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses.

This is further evidence that the trafficking of exotic wildlife has added to the risk of transmitting coronavirus and other viruses.

Pandemic and epidemic future prevention must also be focused on pathogen spillover from this trade in wildlife.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Nga of WCS’s Viet Nam Program explained:

“We know that SARS-like coronaviruses (SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1) can cause serious disease in humans. This study confirms the presence of coronaviruses in the SARS-CoV family in trafficked pangolins in Viet Nam.

“Eliminating the trade in pangolins and other wild mammals and birds will eliminate this high-risk pathway for viral spillover and pathogen emergence.”

All eight species of pangolins have been listed on CITES Appendix I since 2017, prohibiting all international trade for commercial purposes. All four species of Asian pangolins, including the Sunda and Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) are considered Endangered or Critically Endangered across their geographic range.

The live wildlife trade, moving wild animals out of their natural habitats and into human dominated landscapes and large urban centers, poses a serious and increasing risk of initiating epidemics from emergent pathogens in human populations.

The report suggests that current international recommendations are too narrowly focused on open markets and do not address the much longer wildlife supply chains, trade of both legally and illegally sourced wildlife from its source.

There is a need for wildlife trade policy reform to curb the risks of future pandemics.

Viet Nam banned the importation of wildlife in January 2020, as an immediate response to the identification of SARS-CoV-2 in China, and called for its own heightened enforcement of existing laws on illegal wildlife trade.  China has also started to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. Legislative reforms designed to completely phase out the farming/sourcing, trade, and consumption of terrestrial wildlife as food have been initiated.

The WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)  worked closely with local partners in Viet Nam to carry out the research which was published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

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