Addressing the illegal wildlife trade in the European Union as a public health issue to draw decision makers attention

Michel Halbwax
Biological Conservation 2020, 251: 108798
The European Union is one of the most important markets for the trafficking of endangered species and a major transit point for illegal wildlife trade. The latter is not only one of the most important anthropogenic drivers of biodiversity loss, it also represents a growing risk for public health. Indeed, wildlife trade exposes humans to a plethora of severe emerging infectious diseases, some of which have contributed to the most dramatic global pandemics humankind has endured. Illegal wildlife trade is often considered as a problem of developing countries but it is first and foremost an international global business with a trade flow from developing to developed countries. The devastating effects of the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 outbreak should thus be an unassailable argument for European decision makers to change paradigm. Rather than deploying efforts and money to combat novel pathogens, mitigating the risk of spreading emerging infectious diseases should be addressed and be part of any sustainable socioeconomic development plan. Stricter control procedures at borders and policies should be enforced. Additionally, strengthening research in wildlife forensic science and developing a network of forensic laboratories should be the cornerstone of the European Union plan to tackle the illegal wildlife trade. Such proactive approach, that should further figure in the EU-Wildlife Action Plan, could produce a win-win situation: the curb of illegal wildlife trade would subsequently diminish the likelihood of importing new zoonotic diseases in the European Union.

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