More than nine out of ten people in Southeast Asia want to end wildlife trafficking and shut down wet markets, according to a poll from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), demonstrating unprecedented consensus after the Wuhan coronavirus spread from animals to humans late last year, Voice of America reported on Wednesday.
About 93 percent of people polled said they would like “action by their governments to eliminate illegal and unregulated wildlife markets.” The WWF surveyed about 5,000 people in March across three Southeast Asian nations, as well as Hong Kong and Japan.
Most experts believe the coronavirus originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China, where animals known to transmit coronaviruses – including bats and pangolins, two of the prime suspects for spreading the Wuhan virus into humans – are crammed together in fetid conditions and sold for public consumption.
China uses Southeast Asian nations as transit hubs to get trafficked wildlife into the country. Governments in Southeast Asia have started to take action to protect themselves from China’s illegal trade, with some nations introducing new laws recently to crack down on Chinese wildlife trafficking.
The Philippine government is currently drafting a law that includes a 20-year prison sentence for people found guilty of wildlife trafficking, according to Theresa Tenazas, a lawyer for the Philippine’s Biodiversity Management Bureau.
“The conditions of these markets are ideal for incubating new diseases and bolster their transmission,” Tenazas wrote in a recent analysis. “They form one of the most detrimental bridges created by man over the natural barriers that previously separated humans and wild animals.”
Vietnam’s prime minister recently ordered the country’s agriculture ministry to draft a directive banning wildlife trade and consumption. A third of the WWF poll respondents in Vietnam said they stopped consuming wildlife products after learning that the Wuhan coronavirus emerged in a Chinese meat market.
According to the poll, support for a ban on wet markets was strongest in Myanmar, where wildlife has been traded openly in the autonomous regions bordering China for years. Poll respondents pressured Thailand and Cambodia to toughen restrictions on China’s illegal wildlife trade as well.
Due to its close proximity to China, Southeast Asia remains particularly at risk of viral contagion. The first death outside of China documented occurred in the Philippines. Thailand was the first country to report a Wuhan coronavirus infection.
As Southeast Asia clamors to shut down China’s illegal wildlife industry, Chinese state media announced on Tuesday that some “sanitized” wet markets would reopen in certain regions across China – including Wuhan, where the coronavirus first originated – reportedly with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO).