Why A Total Ban On Wildlife Trade Could Make Matters Worse

An outright ban on wildlife trade may exacerbate the situation. Could carefully controlling these animal markets be the best answer?

Animals for sale at a bird market in Jakarta
Animals for sale at a bird market in Jakarta
Kenzie Azmi

CAIRO — It is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in a live animal market in Wuhan, China, which displayed about 50 different species of wild animals, including some endangered species.

Unregulated live wildlife markets are an easy breeding ground for diseases as the species they trade — usually originating from very different environments with different immune systems — are suddenly placed in extremely close proximity. Being crammed in cages surrounded by loud noises and other distressed animals while being handled constantly creates high levels of stress, which ends up further weakening their immune systems. This creates an ideal environment for diseases to jump from one species to another, eventually hitting humans. It may sound like a practice we should put a stop to immediately, but the situation is much more convoluted than it seems.

There is widespread support for outright bans all over the world. The U.S.-based nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society is calling to end the global wildlife trade in live animal markets, illegal trafficking and poaching of wild animals — if not to save species from extinction, then to save ourselves from the next pandemic. More than 300 organizations signed an open letter to the World Health Organization, urging it to recommend a permanent ban on live wildlife markets around the world. Recently, China issued a temporary ban on wildlife consumption and farming and Wuhan banned all wildlife consumption. It is expected that these bans could become law relatively soon; A survey funded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) showed that among five countries in Southeast Asia, the general public had a strong understanding of the correlation between the COVID-19 outbreak and wildlife trade markets, and most respondents said they would support a ban on these markets.

But is a ban on wildlife trade the best way to prevent another pandemic and protect biodiversity?

Animal rights activists record endangered turtles at a market in Guandong, China — Photo: Alex Thomas/ZUMA

The unsustainable wildlife trade is "the second-largest direct threat to biodiversity globally, after habitat destruction," according to the WWF report. Sustainability is indeed a key question. Many organizations are against blanket bans on the wildlife trade, suggesting they are "unlikely to benefit people or wildlife … because they overlook the complexity of the wildlife trade." An outright ban can have several opposite effects, including increased market price due to protected status, black market trade, organized crime, increased poaching and the increased hygiene risks that come with unregulated trade. Not to mention that the WWF has been implicated in violent colonial practices against indigenous people in pursuit of its agenda; Locals are pushed out or banned from practicing livelihood activities such as hunting or grazing. A 2017 report by the Chinese Academy of Engineering found that wildlife trade in China was worth over $73 billion dollars and employed more than a million citizens. The traditional Chinese medicine industry, which was recently promoted by President Xi Jinping, is conservatively estimated to be worth a whopping $130 billion.

Just like the war on drugs, banning these products makes them more valuable

An outright ban on live wildlife markets could simply push them from the cities into the black markets of villages and rural communities, where they would be much more difficult to control. Furthermore, China's government promotes the idea that wildlife domestication is the key to increasing livelihoods in rural areas, as it provides an additional source of income and stable food supply — alleviating the government's responsibilities. Just recently, China's National Health Commission published a list of recommended treatments for COVID-19, which included bear bile powder.

The recent temporary closure of wildlife farms due to the COVID-19 outbreak has put the spotlight on just how large the industry is. Although only 3,725 permits were issued between 2005 and 2013 by the forestry administration, more than 19,000 farms were shut down since the outbreak. And that's only in China; Other major import markets include the United States and Europe. East Africa, Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, the eastern borders of the EU, some markets in Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, parts of Indonesia and New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are all struggling with unregulated wildlife trade and export.

The trade of wild animals is an extremely large, complex global market with a very long supply chain made up of different players, and it includes both sustainable and unsustainable forms of trade. Any ban needs to be extremely well considered — otherwise it can exacerbate the very outcomes it was meant to prevent, as we've seen many times before.

In 1979, for instance, more than 100 countries came together and agreed to ban rhinoceros horns from being traded after the species was on the brink of extinction. Today we are seeing huge increases in poaching in rhinos, elephants and tigers, all in spite of longstanding bans in the trade of their parts. Some critics say that, just like the war on drugs, banning these products makes them more valuable, and as the stakes get higher, the trade becomes more dangerous.

In 2018, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species began an initiative to study how legal and sustainable trade can contribute to people's livelihoods as well as conservation. Thirty new case studies of sustainable use of wildlife were presented, ranging from mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish to corals and plants. They found that careful management of trophy hunting programs for bighorn sheep in Mexico and ibex and markhor in Tajikistan actually led to significant growth in wild populations that were dwindling, reduced habitat degradation by overgrazing from livestock, reduced poaching, and important economic and social benefits for local communities as well as incentives to protect these species.

The failures and harmful effects of outright bans in the past drive us to look for another way forward. There is enough evidence to suggest that better-regulated trade with full consideration of international wildlife trade laws, animal welfare, global health regulations and the livelihoods and aspirations of local communities would be a better solution.

*Kenzie Azmi is a wildlife biologist, an environmental educator with Dayma Journeys and a member of Nature Conservation Egypt.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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