Wildlife Trade and Public Health

Consumption and demand for wild meat is driving severe declines and extinctions in wildlife populations in Southeast Asia. Such consumption and trade in wildlife also poses a high risk of infectious diseases for humans. In the globalised, connected world in which we live, these diseases cross national borders at alarming speeds and can escalate into global epidemic events, affecting millions. 

Much of the consumption of wild meat and wildlife products is motivated by beliefs in the unproven medicinal properties of these products, and the recent urban imagination that wild meat is inherently healthier than farmed meat. The global demand for live animals bound for the pet trade creates additional pressure on wildlife populations and results in large-scale trading of certain species. 

Markets for live wild animals and bushmeat are common across the Greater Mekong region, with demand originating from a broad spectrum of people. Fresh produce markets also often sell multiple species of illegally hunted or captured wildlife, alive and dead. These markets, where humans come in constant contact with both domestic and wild animals, act as breeding grounds for known and unknown pathogens, some of which can mutate, become transmittable and infectious among human populations, causing widespread suffering and even death. 

Outbreaks of that were originally zoonotic diseases - or those transmitted from animals to humans - include the Coronavirus, Nipah, H1N1, H5N1, HIV, and Ebola, many of which can be linked back to wildlife markets. Pathogens from certain animals that are closely related to humans - primarily mammals, with primates being the closest - are more likely to become infectious to us given regular contact. The widespread culture of hunting and consuming wild primates and other mammals thus poses a particularly significant risk to humans.

WWF Greater Mekong urges the governments in the region to impose a total and permanent closure of wildlife markets in order to stop wildlife extinctions and reduce the risk of animal borne diseases spreading to humans.

Back to Wild
© WWF Greater Mekong
© WWF-Myanmar
Ron (Ryuji) Tsutsui, CEO of WWF Japan and Chairperson of the Asia Pacific Growth Strategy

"If we don’t permanently end poaching and illegal trade of wild animals for bushmeat, for perceived medicinal value, or as pets, there will always be the threat of this kind of epidemic in the future"

Asia Pacific Statement on Closing Illegal Wildlife Markets
© Michèle Dépraz/WWF
Public survey on COVID-19 and Wildlife Trade

In order to help prevent future zoonotic outbreaks like COVID-19, 93% of respondents surveyed in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong support actions by their governments to close high-risk wildlife markets.

Read the report