Major international effort is needed to tackle the consumption of wild animals in order to prevent future pandemics, said Prof. Lee White, Gabon’s Minister for Forests, Oceans, the Environment and Climate Change on June 3, 2020.

In a report written by Mike Pflanz for The Independent, White said the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is thought to have crossed from a wild animal to people at a meat market in China before spreading to almost every country on Earth. More than six million cases have been reported worldwide. Its emergence and lightning spread has highlighted the dangers of people eating wild animals.

The Independent is leading global calls to end hunting, selling, and consuming wildlife with its #BanWildlifeTrade campaign. “About 60% of known infectious diseases and up to 75% of new or emerging diseases are zoonotic in origin,” said Maxwell Gomera, head of biodiversity and ecosystem services at UN Environment.

A targeted approach rather than outright bans would be most successful in heading off further pandemics, White said. “As a government, we’re trying to combine approaches of adopting laws that make sense and educating people as much as we can, at the same time trying to identify what is safer to consume,” White told an expert panel hosted by The Arts Club in London and moderated by the international conservation charity Space for Giants. “No-one is going to suggest you eat gorillas. We are advising people not to eat primates or small carnivores or bats. But maybe it is different with small antelopes, just as with the white-tailed deer in the US, or the red deer in Scotland, or the roe deer in France." The Gabonese government banned eating primates after an earlier outbreak of Ebola, but the impact was limited, Prof. White said. “With Ebola, people stopped eating monkeys for a while, but within a year they’d forgotten about it,” he said. “So with COVID-19 there might now be a short-lived sensibility to bats, pangolins, and so on but I don’t think that will last.”

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