Vietnam bans most wildlife trade in bid to stop future pandemic

Vietnam has banned the trading of most wild animals and animal products, and will abolish wildlife markets.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc signed a new directive on 23 July after pressure from a coalition of 14 conservation groups in Vietnam. In February, the groups sent a joint letter warning the government that “new viruses will continue to move from wildlife to people while illegal wildlife trade and wildlife consumptions continue”.

The directive does not cover wildlife for medicinal use or wild animals being kept as pets. There is also risk that enforcement across the country’s borders may not be stringent enough. It is, however, an important step forward in the total elimination of the billion dollar illegal wildlife trade and the prevention of future pandemics.

The Southeast Asian country also warned there would be a crackdown on anyone involved in illegal hunting, killing or advertising of wild animals. Online wildlife trade is a booming business, where images of species are openly posted on sites such as Facebook and YouTube.

Vietnam is one of Asia’s biggest consumers of wildlife products, such as pangolin scales, elephant ivory and rhino horns which are erroneously believed to have medicinal value. It is therefore unclear whether these trafficked goods will now be banned under the new law. The most frequently smuggled animal goods include tiger parts, rhino horn and pangolins. Animals are also bought as pets for status symbols.

The news follows a pledge by the Chinese government to ban the trade in wildlife and put a temporary ban on wet markets, such as the market in Wuhan, the origin of Covid-19, where animals such as snakes, beavers and badgers were kept in close proximity and sold alive.

The announcement points to further recognition that Covid-19 and other pandemics are linked to the wildlife trade and must be banned as a matter of international and public health security. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute released a report warning that zoonotic diseases are increasing and will continue to do so without action to protect wildlife and preserve the environment.

The announcement has been cautiously welcomed by conservation groups, who have previously accused the Vietnamese government of being complacent in the fight against the trade of endangered species.

Take action

While there are a multitude of factors that contribute to the continuation of illegal wildlife trafficking, if consumers don’t buy these products then trade will ultimately cease. Wildlife must no longer be seen as a commodity, but a fundamental part of an ecosystem and the planet.

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