Coronavirus: New wildlife trade regime needed to avoid next pandemic | FT Interview

John E Scanlon, special envoy for African Parks and former secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, speaks to the FT’s Vanessa Kortekaas about how conservation efforts have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis and the need for a new international wildlife trade regime to avoid the next pandemic. See if you get the FT for free as a student ( or start a £1 trial:

Let’s start with the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of cova 19 itself the world health organization has said that the virus most likely came from bats jumped the species barrier and infected humans via another animal source and we know of course that the first major outbreak was linked to an animal and seafood market in the chinese city of wuhan what role if

Any do you think humans played in causing this pandemic yes i mean there’s no consensus yet on the origins but what you’ve said is the most likely scenario from a horseshoe bat to intermediate species such as a penguin to people now animals are not the problem here the problem here is people and the way in which people interact with wildlife so when we clear wild

Places and when we take wild animals out of the wild out of their natural habitat we catch them we store them we transport them we put them in markets we mix them with a whole lot of other species both wild and domesticated this is what causes the conditions that give rise to this spillover from a virus in an animal perhaps to another animal then to people so the

Problem is with us and the way in which we are interacting with wildlife and wild places i mean those conditions that you just described there have been talked about scientists and wildlife experts have been warning about the public health risks associated to some wet markets and wildlife markets previously if they are such a risk is there a place for them in society

And if so how could they be made safe not all wildlife trade poses a threat to human health for example there are large volumes of trade in plants which we’re not talking about there are many animals that don’t pose a threat to public health many fish species coral species etc what we’re really talking about here is terrestrial mammals and also possibly some birds

As well as amphibians and reptiles so there’s a subset of animals and if you want to go even deeper it seems to be the bats it seems to be the rodents and the primates that are of highest concern so what we need to do is get some definitions around this it’s not all wet markets wet markets can be safe and well regulated there are seafood markets markets and sell

Vegetables etc it is these markets that introduce wildlife and the sort of wildlife that poses a threat to human health and when you put them in a market and mix them all in together that is a is a recipe for disaster in terms of the outbreak of new viruses so we just need to get some definitions around this to make sure that we’re focusing our attention on issues

Of high risk and i want to turn now to the impact of the cova nineteen crisis on local conservation efforts has the effects of this pandemic mostly been negative because for example a fall in international ecotourism and economic activity means less funds for wildlife agencies and conservancies or has this unprecedented pause and human activity actually benefited

Some environments in wildlife well if you like it’s a little bit of both i think the impact has been far more negative than positive if this the business model for conservation in the african continent is built very much around wildlife based tourism and that wildlife based tourism generates huge amount of jobs a lot of enterprise it underpins the employment of

Rangers and parks agencies across the continent so with the wildlife based tourism basically crashing it will come back but it’s crashed for now you’ve lost the major source of revenue for wildlife conservation on the continent and that’s really devastating devastating for parks parks agencies for tourism operators for those who are catering for those these parks

For those who have got enterprises around these parks there’s a devastating blow for them yes they’ve been some positives in a sentence with less people around less interaction you’ve seen certain animals come back and appear but against that we’re really concerned about a surge in poaching because as people lose their jobs they lose their livelihoods they’re

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Looking for sources of income they’re looking for protein you know we are fearing that there could be a big uplift in poaching so overall this has been very negative for conservation very negative for all of those who have invested so much time effort money into the conservation agenda in particular through wildlife tourism i was just gonna ask about poaching i mean

Is there anything that can be done to sort of deter these people who as you say are turning to poaching because they’ve lost their livelihood elsewhere are there any measures that you’re aware that are being taken to try and counteract that so measures are being taken there are certain funds being made available to help local communities help parks agencies and

Others through this period this very rough period of the next year or two but what we really need to do is we need to scale up our investment in conservation at this time not scale back so we need to assist countries their parks agencies a non-government sector that’s here but in particular the local communities who’ve lost their jobs because we need to maintain

This asset base this wonderful wildlife asset base that’s going to deliver so much wealth and opportunity for example on the african continent we can’t have a period of a few years when we lose it because of this dip and if you think about the benefits of wildlife conservation from a public health perspective it helps avert the next wildlife pandemic in terms of

Biodiversity and protecting biodiversity and everything be used for climate change to mitigate climate change all the local jobs it creates and the security it provides in regions where you can have decent local jobs in rural areas so the benefits are massive from a development point of view climate change point of view from a point of view of security so we really

Need to tap into some of those budgets because the benefit of good wildlife conservation is is is in many different ways and we need to tap into these various different budgets in terms of that the wider international picture you’re a part of efforts to establish a global agreement to on the definition of wildlife crime and also to embed wildlife crime in the

International justice system can you just talk through exactly what measures you want to see put in place yeah this kovach 19 pandemic has reminded us in a devastating way of the interconnected nature of everything between animal health human health the economy and it’s also highlighted some real deficiencies in our international law framework we have international

Laws that regulate wildlife trade but they only regulate it to see whether or not that trade is going to threaten the survival of that seize these wildlife trade laws are not taking account of public health or animal health risk associated with that so that needs to change that might have been okay pre-k vat19 post cove at 19 we cannot have a wildlife trade regime

That only looks at over-exploitation only looks at the effect of that species in the wild we need a one health approach to wildlife trade bring together the conservation the animal health and the human health what it’s also shown us is we have a great big deficiency in how we deal with wildlife crime now wildlife crime looked at generally is worth anything up to

Two hundred billion dollars a year and it’s having a devastating impact on local communities national economies and we now know ecosystems as well as public health we don’t have at a global level a wildlife crime agreement in place we’ve been relying upon a trade convention for a long time to leave the charge here that’s not adequate and what codebook 19 has shown

Is is we have a real deficiency there we need a new agreement on wildlife crime take these crimes seriously and address them seriously and we can do that by creating what we call a new protocol under the un convention against transnational organized crime i mean in order to deliver all that you mentioned and starting a sort of new convention but what other actors

Would have to be involved in that so would it come down to government resources obviously un agencies it does it come down even to the food industry in the supply chain to actually enforce and fund any new regulations so if we’re going to have any new international laws on wildlife trade or on wildlife crime it’s going to be a question for states so countries are


Going to decide whether or not they want to change the international legal regime and they’re obviously going to be influenced by the views of their citizens by the corporations that are there by the non-government organizations that are there i believe that we’ve got plenty of evidence available to us now that the international legal framework is clearly inadequate

And it’ll rest with states countries to decide whether or not they are prepared now to make some changes and i believe that we will see a positive response here because the consequences of this pandemic have been so devastating we need to take all the measures we possibly can to prevent this ever happening again and that includes and this is not the only thing to

Do but that includes putting in place an improved international legal framework that fills the gaps that have been identified through this pandemic and i mean in terms of just more details of the the financials the resources that would be required for this you’ve talked about the value of the wildlife trade market globally clearly there’s an incentive for poachers

And illegal traders but how do you convince governments to put forward the resources at a time when their own budgets are stretched to support their own health systems and economies through this pandemic how do you convince them to put more money into this well if you think look at the consequences of this pandemic the trillions of dollars that its cost the economy

The hundreds of thousands of lives the amount of people that have had significant impacts on their health and their families now this can all be traced back to a zoonotic disease the spillover from a horseshoe bat through to possibly a pangolin to humans now the scale of investment required to avert the next wildlife related pandemic is infinitesimal compared to

That it’s not going to cost a lot to correct the international legal regime and to start to deploy better resources into combating illegal wildlife trade and wildlife crime more generally treated as a serious crime have the criminal justice system apply more time and more effort to these crimes and fix up the wildlife trade laws internationally and nationally to

Take a one health approach the amount of money required for that is really small and absolutely infinitesimal compared to the consequences of not taking preventative action and we also need to invest much more in countries at source so by diverse rich areas we need to invest in them their local communities to protect wildlife its source because we do know when

You protect wild places and you invest in the communities within and amongst them they become the best protectors of that wildlife and that’s good for biodiversity combating climate change its developing decent jobs and it’s helping us avert the next wildlife-related pandemic so in the scheme of things this is not a big investment proposition and how would you

Describe the moment that we’re at now i mean arguably there’s there’s never been more sort of global attention on these issues do you think there’s a new sense of urgency around tackling these issues that maybe hasn’t been there before yes i think most definitely and you know we’ve known for some time the devastating consequences of wildlife crime on local

Communities national economies it’s fueled by corruption etc but this covert 19 pandemic has really raised the attention of the global community to these deficiencies and recognized the public health risk associated with poorly regulated unregulated and illegal trade in wildlife and unmitigated destruction of wild places so i think it really has lifted the

Attention of governments the attention of citizens the attention of corporations to say we need a much better system for how we are regulating trade dealing with wildlife crime and protecting wild places and i think we could see some quite significant changes through this if we all apply ourselves and move in the direction that i’ve suggested and i want to turn

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To the the prospects for a meaningful change out of this pandemic china recently introduced a temporary ban on wildlife trade and consumption excluding for medicinal purposes is this just an incremental change in your view and how crucial is china to any new international agreement tackling illegal wildlife trade and also to maybe changing habits and conditions

Around wet markets or wildlife markets going forward so the the conditions that can cause the next wildlife flight related pandemic and not just within china you can find them in multiple places multiple countries looking at china yes it’s it’s a key player i mean it’s a huge country massive population second largest economy it’s a big player in in wildlife trade

It has been involved in wildlife trade for a very very long time and so it’s going to be a very important player and we’ve seen that it has stepped up here to strengthen its controls over combating illegal trade over wet markets and wet markets with wildlife with respect to certain species including the pain gland giving them greater protection so we are seeing

A shift in china with respect to how it is strengthening its laws and strengthening actions in relation to or in response to this type of 19 pandemic what is important though is that we put that in an international context because if china is the only one doing it in neighboring countries and countries across other continents are not doing the same we’re still at

Risk from these wildlife related pandemics so we need to put it under an international framework that’s why i’ve suggested changes to wildlife trade laws and wildlife crime laws so we can put this under a framework where decisions taken by china or any other country can be addressed in an open transparent context based on the best science and we can revisit these

Decisions in five years ten years twenty years thirty years because measures were taken after sars but we have very short memories as people and some of the measures that were taken started to get relaxed over time we need to institutionalize our response here and embed it in the international framework so that we’ve got a collective effort and we’re all pulling

In the same direction to avert the next pandemic and on that last point i mean humans can be short-sighted as you say the world is only growing ever more connected through travel and work and indeed humans encroaching on animal habitats do you think that this pandemic this once-in-a-century pandemic will have caused enough i guess human suffering and human pain

To actually make people change in the long term in terms of our relationship with the natural world yeah look it’s been devastating for so many people in so many ways but can we learn from this experience as we move forward what is absolutely apparent from this pandemic is we must change our relationship with nature we cannot continue on the course we have in terms

Of the destruction of wild places the way in which we’re regulating wildlife trade the way in which we are dealing with wildlife crime and the way we’re investing in local communities to protect biodiversity places i do think this has been a serious wake-up call for the entire planet because we’re all affected by this and we can see that we cannot stay on the path

We are i would hope there’s enough momentum and enough appreciation now of the importance of changing our interrelationship with nature we know what we need to do in terms of laws investments programs and and how we interact with nature if we can go on and do that not only will we be helping prevent the next wildlife related pandemic we’ll be saving biodiversity

Will be combating climate change will be generating decent local jobs in rural communities and delivering on the sustainable development goals and assisting with security in these places as well so there are multiple benefits to be gained from changing the way in which we’re interrelating with nature be it through trade be it through how we combat illegal wildlife

Trade or be and how we protect part of us rich places john scanlan thank you very much thank you

Transcribed from video
Coronavirus: New wildlife trade regime needed to avoid next pandemic | FT Interview By Financial Times

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