We Must Work Together to Prevent Future Pandemics

The newly released World Health Organisation report on the origins of Covid-19 confirms what we have long suspected. Wildlife trade most likely played a role for the virus to spread from its original wild animal host to people.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is encouraged to see, finally, world leaders putting politics aside to understand the origin of the pandemic.

China closed the Wuhan Huannan market early on in the epidemic. Realising that most of the samples collected from the Wuhan market came from an area where wild animals were sold, China banned wildlife eating and closed all markets selling wild animals, and the farms supplying these markets with wild animals for food.

Since banning wildlife markets, China has also moved to strengthen a series of laws, including the Wildlife Protection Law, the Criminal Law, the Biosafety Law, and the Animal Epidemic Prevention Law. All these legislative moves demonstrate one thing. China considers wildlife crime as a threat to the country’s ecological security as well as public health and safety.   

In February, China revised the addendum to the Wildlife Protection Law. In one fell swoop, China added 517 more species onto the National Protected Species List. For the first time, the 980 species afforded legal protection include not just wild animals that walk, but also those that fly and swim.   

China’s law enforcers have always considered wildlife crime a serious crime. To ramp up law enforcement in anticipation that criminals may take advantage of the pandemic to trade wildlife online and deliver through express, IFAW’s government partners joined us in mobilising both the online and logistics companies to fight illegal wildlife trade.

The harsh sentencing handed down in a court in Guangdong to a gang of ivory smugglers demonstrates China’s zero tolerance stance against wildlife trafficking. A newly amended Criminal Law giving more teeth for prosecuting domestic wildlife crime cases, took effect on March 1st.

IFAW has long conducted behaviour change campaigns to reduce both market supply and consumer demand for wildlife parts and products. We believe that strong laws combined with vigorous enforcement and meaningful penalties for violators stigmatise wildlife consumption, thus, create an enabling social environment for behaviour change.

Countering wildlife crime is an issue that is galvanising the Chinese society. From the public and the private sector, we have seen overwhelming enthusiasm and support. Last year, IFAW and Baidu jointly launched the AI Guardian for Wildlife, using AI technology developed by Baidu to identify images of wildlife parts and products traded online. The online companies have also provided innovative technology enabling IFAW’s demand reduction campaign to reach target audience with precision.

To prevent future pandemics, it is imperative that countries around the world work together. By doing that, both wildlife and people will benefit.

GRACE GE GABRIEL / IFAW Regional Director, Asia

May 2021