Expert who predicted pandemic warns wildlife trade must end
- Credit: PA
A university expert in Norwich who predicted a pandemic caused by China’s wildlife trade 17 years ago has warned the wildlife trade must end.
Professor Diana Bell, who made the claim back in 2004, also warned that a worldwide end to wildlife trade was needed in order to prevent future global outbreaks.
An expert in emerging zoonotic diseases from the University of East Anglia’s School of Biological Sciences, she said: “SARS was the first global pandemic of the 21st century and early cases were linked to wildlife markets in China.
“We happened to be working on wildlife trade and biodiversity conservation, including rare species of civets in neighbouring Vietnam, and we knew that many different species of live wild-caught animals were kept close to each other in the extensive illegal trade route system, markets, restaurants, and wildlife ‘farms’.
“My colleagues and I suggested that civets were probably infected during the ‘speed dating’ of zoonotic viruses circulating among the jumble of different animal species packed together at markets or while being transported to markets, often in China but importantly also other countries across South East Asia.
“We warned then that the wildlife trade was a massive threat to human health and indeed biodiversity. But our warnings were not heeded.
“Now it’s time for real change and collective action to stop illegal trade in wild animals which mix a vast array of species and of course the pathogens they carry.”
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Currently, there is a ban on China’s live wildlife trade, which Prof Bell described as a “major first step”, but argued that the new reforms do not go far enough.
She added: “We cannot continue playing Russian roulette with zoonotic viruses and their known potential for causing global pandemics.
“Also, aquatic species such as heavily over-exploited freshwater turtles and terrestrial tortoises are not covered by the ban.”
She said it was important that governments of other countries involved in the trade chain of the same wild animals must also implement the same bans.
“And there must be continued horizon scanning for other zoonotic pathogens to avoid future pandemics.”
Her warnings come ahead of World Wildlife Day on March 3.