COVID-19 Report - 15

Environmental risk

Illegal and high-risk trade
and consumption of wildlife

Human activity


*	 Wild meat consumption as a
delicacy or as alternative protein
*	 Unsafe and unhygienic practices
in trade


Unsustainable food systems
*	 Land-use change for agriculture
*	 Habitat fragmentation
*	 Agriculture intensification

Wet markets are typically large collections of stalls selling
fresh meat, fish, fruits and vegetables. In some instances,
wet markets may sell live animals (wild and/or domestic)
as well as slaughter animals on the premises.
Wildlife markets specifically sell wild animals for meat,
as pets, or for other purposes (e.g., use in traditional
High-risk taxa are groups of species that pose a particular
risk for the transfer of zoonotic diseases. They are:
rodents, bats, shrews and shrew-like relatives, primates,
carnivores and ungulates. Rodents carry 85 known
zoonotic diseases, carnivores 83, primates 61, ungulates
52, bats 25, and shrews 21.21

The demand for wild meat as a culinary delicacy
is growing around the globe, driving increased
consumption in markets and restaurants. In some
regions, urban dwellers want to consume wild meat as it is
considered a delicacy and a status symbol, valuing its links to
high socioeconomic status and food-related curiosity. In 2018,
for example, the price of pangolin meat in some restaurants
in Viet Nam was around US$300 per kilogram.22 Similarly,
a survey of wildlife consumption in three provinces in China
found that high-grade restaurants and hotels accounted
respectively for 41 per cent and 34 per cent of places where
wild meat was consumed.23 Domestic and foreign tourists
are also driving demand, with local tourism suppliers
often promoting the consumption of wild animals in travel
destinations as a unique experience based on local traditions.24

*	 Increased
to animal
pathogens at
the interface
between nature,
humans and
*	 Increased
to animal


*	 Increased risk
of zoonotic
*	 Broader
climate change
and biodiversity

across international borders for commercial purposes, often
in cramped and unhygienic conditions. This leads to the
movement of possible host species across these borders,
enabling transmission between species and geographies (see
case study 1). For example, the live trade of dromedaries
from the Horn of Africa to the Arabic Peninsula, particularly
to markets in Saudi Arabia, has been linked to the emergence
of MERS.26 At a national level, wild animals are often
transported from forests and other natural ecosystems
into urban areas, with limited safe-handling, hygiene and
transport regulations, leading to possible transmission across
the supply chain.
Wild meat is also consumed as a source of protein
in some regions, particularly in rural communities
in developing countries, exposing individuals to
dangerous pathogens.27 The hunting, transportation,
and cooking practices used in consuming wild meat for
subsistence often do not follow any food safety standards.28
Recent disease outbreaks, such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak29
have been associated with the sourcing, hunting and
butchering of wild animals such as bats and chimpanzees,
suspected of hosting zoonotic diseases.30 As the number
of people experiencing acute hunger after the COVID-19
pandemic is predicted to rise significantly, there is a risk that
the consumption of wild meat as a source of food security
will grow. Given that protein consumption is essential to
nutrition and health, there is an urgent need to ensure
that the communities that depend on wild meat can obtain
safe and sustainable sources of protein, and prepare them
hygienically, or be assisted in developing alternative protein

The unsafe trade and transport of high-risk wildlife
to new urban locations, for consumption or other
purposes, also creates conditions for spillover.25
Every year, hundreds of thousands of wild animals are traded



COVID-19 Report

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