The illegal commercial wildlife trade must be eradicated to prevent the next pandemic, says an anti-trafficking campaigner, and even the legal trade should be banned.
“Thailand has historically been a hub for wildlife trafficking, both legal and illegal trade,” said Steve Galster, founder and CEO of the anti-trafficking organisation Freeland.
“It’s got a better infrastructure than other countries in the region so it can get product from source to market, from Africa, from Indonesia to China,” he told Dave Kendall on the Bangkok Post podcast Deeper Dive.
“So it’s just historically placed with a lot of businessmen based in Bangkok, in particular, who know the supply chain and have set them up over decades.”
Which animals are being trafficked? The pangolin was once common in Thailand but now scaly anteaters are being caught in Indonesia and smuggled live across the borderwith Malaysia and Myanmar.
Dead pangolins, or just the scales prized in Chinese medicine, are shipped from as far away as Africa.
But that’s by no means all.
“The list is really long,” Mr Galster said. “We’ve got tiger skins, and bones in particular. We’ve got other big cats, leopards. We’ve got lion carcasses being trafficked over from southern Africa. We have wild birds being shipped in all the way from Brazil.”
Wildlife trafficking has three main consequences: first, the suffering of the animals as they are stuffed into crates and bags.
Second, many of the smuggled species are endangered, some critically, and we are in the midst of the worst extinction crisis in history: about 100 species of plants and animals go extinct every day, according to a UN report, and 1 million are on the brink. Habitat loss through the expansion of farming — mostly for animal agriculture — is the major cause, but smuggling is another.
Finally, the danger of our own species going extinct is real — the next pandemic could be much more deadly, and the chance it will be transmitted by zoonotic means (from a chain of animals) is significant.
“Scientists are now saying that what probably sparked Covid-19 was a virus transmitted from raccoon dogs, of all things, from a commercial market in that wet market of Wuhan,” said Mr Galster.
“Now, those raccoon dogs would have been commercially traded. You can find raccoon dogs in Chatuchak market today. So we should be concerned about all of this.
“I really think we should just be going for a ban on commercial trade in wild animals. I think that there’s a tiny percentage of people in the country of Thailand, in the world who actually benefit from that trade. There’s a whole lot of people and animals that risk bad things from that trade.”
Watch the full interview with Steve Galster below or by searching for “Deeper Dive Thailand” wherever you get your podcasts.