Covid-19’s crippling global health and financial crises pushed China’s government to issue a temporary, comprehensive ban on wildlife trade and consumption. As a result, the lucrative international black market that profits up to $23 billion annually from animal trafficking is finally being scrutinised on a global scale.
The spread of zoonotic diseases is forcing us to pay attention to the animal resources we utilise for food consumption, health remedies, fashion and beauty products. Our consumer behavior is not only putting our species at risk but thousands of others worldwide.
Will further trading bans be enforced in order to reduce risk, as the virus now spreads across the African continent and new cases are being reported in nine of its countries?
The exotic pet trade, for example, has caused severe threats to species and their habitats worldwide. Most notably, parrots continue to be trapped, removed from their native environments and smuggled illegally to other countries to be sold as pets.
The most sought after parrot, African Greys, have become one of the continent’s top ten animals most devastated by pet exportation, with increasing demands in Asia, Europe, North American and the Middle East. High intelligence and mimicry have put them in high demand, but over the past half century they have been removed from their homes in large numbers, depleting their populations by over 90 percent in some areas.
African Greys tend to be easier to trap in large numbers due to their outwardly social behavior and group congregation on forest floors.
Glue is applied to palm leaves and branches in gathering places, making the birds unable to escape. Sometimes, decoys are used to lure flocks into set traps.
Poaching has caused African Grey populations to decline in all of their native countries, but most notably in Ghana where there species is nearly extinct. Since the 1980s, over three million greys have been poached, both legally and illegally, causing THE Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to announce a global ban on the African Grey trade in 2016.
However, some conservationists worry that outlawing the trade has raised the price per parrot, presenting a new motive for illegal trapping and trafficking at the hands of dangerous local and international trade syndicates.
Domestically, regulations on the exotic pet trade have helped curb illegal transporting. Marc Marrone, animal dealer, breeder and TV personality, said: “No African Greys can be imported into the USA unless they are brought into a consortium sponsored and owned by the federal government.
"Any African Grey parrot offered for sale [in the US] was born and bred here, and it has been that way since 1986.”
Although numerous conservationists and wildlife organizations are working with locals in African nations to stop illegal poaching, major changes will only occur when global demands decrease.
Halting international wildlife trafficking - however brief - may be the only positive from the current pandemic. If bans are lifted, we must confront the impact of the wildlife trade on both public health and vulnerable animals.
Raj Tawney is a journalist and essayist in New York, covering conservation and culture. Recent contributions include Knight Science Journalism at MIT’s Undark Magazine, Popular Science, The Boston Globe and Best Friends Animal Society Magazine.
Image: Tom Woodward, Wikipedia.