Wildlife Crossings

Wildlife Crossings
News Updates
In June, the House of Representatives included dedicated funding in the INVEST in America Act (HR2) to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions. Renee Callahan, Senior Policy Officer for our Partner, the Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC), noted that wildlife-vehicle collisions cost over $8 billion a year but that wildlife crossing structures have been shown to reduce collisions by as much as 97 percent. A Senate bill (S2302) also includes $250 million for wildlife crossing construction.
At the same time, the Road Ecology Center at the University of California-Davis has released a report on the lower death tolls for large wildlife during traffic reductions caused by COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in California, Idaho and Maine as follows.
State Average # Large Wildlife Killed daily from 2015-2019 Average # Large Wildlife Killed daily in 2020 post-stay home orders % Reduction in 2020
CA 8.4 6.6 21%
ID 8.7 5.4 38%
ME 15.2 8.4 45%

Sustainable Fisheries?

Sustainable Fisheries?
June 30, 2020
By Andrew Rowan
The total global catch of wild fish increased from 31 million metric tons in 1950 to a high of 130 million metric tons in 1996 before falling back to 109 million metric tons in 2010. However, from 1950 onwards, 366 of 1,519 fisheries collapsed (defined as a 90 percent reduction in stock) with overfishing being a major cause of many of the collapses. Climate variation, often in the guise of El Nino events, was also a very important factor driving large fluctuations in fish stocks. Despite major advances in the scientific understanding of the variation in global fish stocks and the development of sophisticated analytical tools to guide decisions about how to manage a sustainable fishery, the number of fishery collapses has been stable over time, indicating no overall improvement in fishery management.
While the collapse of the North Atlantic cod fishery may be one of the best-known examples of the non-sustainable management of a fishery, different fisheries have collapsed all over the world and most fisheries are considered to be fully exploited. The tuna fishery for the main species of tuna – giant Bluefin, Bigeye, Yellowfin, Skipjack, and Albacore – is certainly fully exploited today. According to a recent paper in Fisheries Research that compiled a comprehensive and harmonized global data set of global tuna catches by area from 1950 onwards, the total weight of tuna landed annually has increased tenfold to over 6 million metric tons a year. The image displays tuna catches for three different time periods: 1950-54, 1980-84 and 2012-16, and shows clearly how tuna fishing now encompasses most of the oceans of the globe (an estimated 55-90 percent of total ocean area). Almost half the tuna now being landed are skipjack tuna, with yellowfin making up a further one-quarter.
Image copied from Fisheries Research, Vol 221, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2019.105379
An earlier publication from 2011 estimated the trends in adult tuna biomass from 1930 up to 2010. The adult biomass of southern Bluefin declined by 95 percent from 1930 to 2010. The adult biomass of the “tropical” tunas (Skipjack, Yellowfin, and Bigeye) declined by approximately 60 percent since 1970. Given that the major species of tuna currently account for $42 billion annually, or over one-quarter of the global seafood trade, the long-term future of tuna is a very important factor in global trade and food security.
The North Atlantic cod fishery collapsed very suddenly around 1990 and has still not shown much sign of recovery despite the moratorium on the cod fishery declared by the Canadian government in 1992. Before the collapse, the fishery’s managers ignored scientific data and set catch quotas that were too high. The fishery increased its take of younger and younger fish (older females produce far more surviving young) and, eventually, the inevitable happened. Looking at the annual tuna landings, the declining age of the tuna being caught, and the declining in overall tuna biomass, one cannot help but think back to Yogi Berra’s famous quote – “It looks like déjà vu all over again.”

Cat Conflicts: Conservationists and Protectionists Remain at Odds but the Conflict Might be Ameliorating

Cat Conflicts: Conservationists and Protectionists Remain at Odds but the Conflict Might be Ameliorating
June 30, 2020
by John Hadidian, Ph.D. and Andrew Rowan, D.Phil.
An early relationship between humans and cats is supported by hard evidence from a burial on Cyprus that dates to 9500 BP. Cats were never native to that Mediterranean island, so the occurrence of a young cat within a human burial, while not evidence of taming, is suggestive of some affinity. Certainly, by 4500 BP cats had begun to be idolized in Egypt, beginning the well-documented history in which cats have been alternately loved and damned, protected and persecuted, or viewed as either beloved pets or hated pests. Such is the history of the human-cat relationship. Now we have “Cat Wars,” the contemporary casting of the domestic cat as an environmental demon responsible for driving vulnerable species on islands extinct and as a wildlife plague elsewhere. The authors of Cat Wars call for cat control by “any means necessary.” This statement is representative of the current conflict over cats which has led to many acrid exchanges between environmental conservationists and cat advocates.
The arguments have spilled over from scientific publications to the popular press in articles with titles such as “The Evil of the Outdoor Cat” and “Apocalypse Meow.” The irony here is that both sides in the conflict (conservationists and protectionists) seek the same endpoint: fewer cats outdoors, whether for the good of wildlife or the good of cats or both.
Currently the major themes being argued seem to revolve on two issues: how many cats are there, and how can their numbers, where needed, be controlled? Here, we share a few thoughts about cat demographics and impacts on wildlife based on our recent review of this contentious issue: “Cat Demographics & Impact on Wildlife in the USA: Facts and Values” (see Journal of Applied Animal Ethics Research, 2020, Volume 2, pages 7-37, however, the full article is behind a pay wall).
In the United States, the issue of how many wild animals are killed by owned and unowned cats has been debated for more than 100 years. Within the last two decades, however, the volume has increased significantly and globalized to encompass a voiced concern about the status of vulnerable wildlife on islands and even continents (e.g. Australasia). To be clear, these concerns can be warranted, as feral cats on islands and in Australia and New Zealand have been documented as having negative impacts on vulnerable native species. Outdoor cats, therefore, add considerably to the usual perils wild animals face. Accordingly, we do not argue that outdoor cats not be managed, but we do propose that any management be justified, effective and humane.
This is where the need for good science comes in. As we have argued at greater length in the published article, developing effective management solutions will be infinitely more productive and simpler if the conservation and animal welfare communities could cooperate. We need to determine much more carefully how many cats there are in the different habitats they occupy. Once we have reasonably accurate estimates of cat population demographics in the habitat of concern, then we can move on to create effective management programs. Researchers in Australia have taken the first good steps in making such determinations at a national level, resulting in earlier guestimates of as many as 12 million cats living feral lives in that country being corrected by better approximation that estimates this figure at 1.6 to 5.6 million depending on the season (the higher number is estimated for the rainy season in Australia). In the United States, the claim that there are 80 million (or more) outdoor cats has almost become dogma, leading to commensurate claims of impacts to wildlife and corresponding clarion calls to address this environmental catastrophe (we speculate that the actual figure may be half that number). Clearly, we need to proceed with the same rigor as in Australia to produce better estimates of outdoor cat numbers that will give us a solid platform on which to build responsible policies.
The good news is that such an effort is well underway. The DC Cat Count represents a collaboration of conservationists and protectionists in a three-year project to estimate the true number of cats living as feral, as owned outdoor, as owned indoor, and as shelter populations in the nation’s capital district. The project employs an array of contemporary data-collection and analytical techniques, including surveys of households, photographing free-roaming cats in city alleys and parks, counting cats along transect lines, and tracking cats surrendered to the animal shelter. These surveys will document the lives of all the urban cats in the District of Columbia. From this database, an accurate estimate of the number of cats will permit the development and impact monitoring of proposed intervention strategies. The data will also provide for public education initiatives and permit city agencies to produce a replicable model that other cities can adopt on a cost-effective basis. This is how cooperation between groups and agencies can be advanced for the good of people, cats, and wildlife.

Companion Animals in a Time of COVID-19-Andrew Rowan June 2020 – Pres. Ltr.

Companion Animals in a Time of COVID-19

LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT, ANDREW ROWAN, JUNE 2020

As we continue to struggle with the current Covid-19 pandemic, it appears that there has been an uptick across the world in the demand for companion animals. In the early phases of the pandemic, there was some concern that our companion animals might be a possible source of infection but, as the infographic from the International Companion Animal Management Coalition indicates, there is very little risk from our pets. There are also reasons, discussed by Professor Alan Kazdin of Yale University in an earlier WBI blog post, why people might be seeking to bring companion animals into their homes at this stressful time.
In the United States, there has been a significant increase in the number of shelter animals being fostered while the number of animals entering shelters fell by almost 50 percent in the early phases of the country’s response to the pandemic. Some shelters in regions hard hit by the pandemic had no animals left for households looking to adopt or foster. At the same time, the demand for puppies being sold by pet stores has also increased and the pet supply industry has been regarded as recession-proof, as the chart below demonstrates. During the recessions of 2001 and 2008-09, spending on pets continued to grow without any noticeable dip. This is not just a North American phenomenon. Demand for pets has been strong in other parts of the world, and humane services have been encouraged. For example, India declared the feeding of street dogs (who lost an important source of food when restaurants and food stalls were shut down) an essential service leading to the development of emergency feeding programs across the country.
Now, thanks to weekly reports from PetPoint (a division of PetHealth, a North American pet health insurance and shelter software company), we can track how the pandemic has affected North American shelters in almost real time. PetPoint has been providing monthly reports of shelter intakes and outcomes among the shelters and rescues using their software (around 20 percent of total intake and outcomes) for ten years. Now, during the Covid-19 outbreak, they have been posting weekly reports. The charts below track the intake and fostering numbers for 2019 and 2020.
As with our understanding of the spread of Covid-19, it is likely that it will take time for us to develop a more detailed picture of the increased entry of companion animals into people’s homes during the pandemic. We can expect to see an uptick in cases of separation anxiety among companion animals when family members head back to school and work. In the meantime, let us applaud PetPoint’s initiative in providing reports of shelter intakes and outcomes on a weekly basis so that we can develop a more granular view of what is happening. North American shelters may have lower intake and increased fostering, but they will also likely have lower staffing levels and possibly reduced funding as donations (and fees) diminish.

Pets and Coronavirus: An Update

Pets and Coronavirus: An Update
by Andrew Rowan
In the last WellBeing News (Issue 2:4), we ran a short item on pets and the coronavirus. We would like to draw readers’ attention to an excellent new review of all the studies to date that have looked at the potential for pets to catch the coronavirus and pass it to their human guardians. The review, “Infected not infectious,” was produced by the International Companion Animal Management Coalition (ICAM) and provides summaries of the available studies on pets and coronavirus as of May 14, as well as a nifty graphic showing the numbers of humans, dogs and cats that have been reported as having been infected by the coronavirus.
Graph showing the numbers of humans, dogs and cats that have been reported as having been infected by the coronavirus.

Shifting Baselines: Understanding the True Extent of Wildlife Decline

Shifting Baselines: Understanding the True Extent of Wildlife Decline
May 30, 2020
By Andrew Rowan
Over the past few years, news stories describing the decline in global wildlife have generally referenced the Living Planet Index (LPI), which is based on methodology developed by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London. The LPI indicates that wildlife populations have declined by 60% from 1970 through 2014. The LPI does not estimate the extent of the wildlife decline that occurred before 1970.
In 1995, Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist in Vancouver, Canada, published a landmark paper, “Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome of fisheries,” in which he notes that fisheries scientists sometimes failed to identify the correct “baseline” population (or how abundant a fish species was before human exploitation), which affected their estimates about a particular fishery’s sustainable harvest. As a result, long-term declines in wildlife populations become difficult to identify, since each generation redefines a new baseline for what is “natural.”
This concept has been widely discussed by marine and fisheries scientists but, as Sumaila and Pauly note in a chapter entitled “The ‘March of Folly’ in Global Fisheries” in a 2011 book on Shifting Baselines, global fishery policies have largely ignored the lessons of shifted baselines. The cod fishery off the eastern seaboard of Canada and New England is a classic example of a policy “folly.” The accompanying chart shows the proportion of cod landed in Labrador and Newfoundland from 1850 through 2010, and the inset shows the recruitment of young cod into the adult population.
From 1850 through to the 1960s, 150-250,000 tonnes of cod were landed every year by the primarily small-scale inshore fishery. The dramatic increase in the 1960s was due to foreign deep-sea trawlers. Canada imposed a 200-mile exclusion zone, but the foreign trawlers were then succeeded by Canadian ships. Recruitment of young fish plummeted and, by the beginning of the 21st century, the cod fishery was no more. It has still not recovered even though Canada has just increased the allowable catch by 30% – to 12,350 tonnes!.
While the “shifting baselines” syndrome is less evident when discussing land animals, each generation still tends to base its understanding of what is “natural” on its experiences when young. The following anecdote is a tiny snapshot of declining populations of yellow-nosed albatross nesting on Nightingale Island in the south Atlantic.
Tristan Yellow-Nosed Albatross
Nightingale is one of four islands that constitute the Tristan archipelago. Tristan, where 250 people live, is the only island in the archipelago that is inhabited and is considered one of the most remote human communities in the world. The nearest city is Cape Town, South Africa, over 1,500 miles and a 6-day boat trip away. Despite its remoteness, two series of photographs taken 66 years apart depicting the nests of the Yellow-nosed Albatross on Nightingale document a decline in albatross populations. The first photograph was taken in early November 1949 by Bertus Rowan on a trip to Nightingale. It shows hundreds of “mollies” (albatross) nesting on the island in what the locals referred to as Molly Pond 2.
The second photograph (taken almost precisely 66 years later, in November 2015 and showing the same nesting area from the same perspective) has very few albatross nests scattered across the “pond.”
Tristan Yellow-Nosed Albatross
Nightingale has never been inhabited by humans and has, so far, not suffered an invasion of rats, mice or other creatures that often travel with humans. Therefore, the decline in nesting albatross must be related to some other factor. Albatross in the southern oceans are particularly affected by long-line fishing, in which a single line of thousands of baited hooks stretching up to 100 kilometers in length is dragged behind fishing vessels to catch tuna and other open-ocean fish. According to Bird Life International, around 100,000 albatross a year are caught on these hooks and drown.
Human activities have contributed to declines in wildlife populations for centuries – not just the past 40 or 50 years. While recent reports of declining wildlife numbers are important to acknowledge these changes, we must constantly guard ourselves against viewing the state of the world 25 or 50 years ago as its “natural” condition. In fact, the history is far longer.

IUCN ‘Guidelines for Conserving Connectivity through Ecological Networks and Corridors’

IUCN ‘Guidelines for Conserving Connectivity through Ecological Networks and Corridors’
May 30, 2020
By Rachel Caldwell
Conservation Program Officer, Center for Large Landscape Conservation
The Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC) is working to mainstream connectivity conservation solutions around the world that save biodiversity, increase resilience to climate change, and safeguard human health. To this end, CLLC supports the new IUCN Guidelines and the operations of the Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group (CCSG) that was established in 2016 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA). The current Chair of the CCSG is Dr. Gary Tabor, the founder and President of CLLC.
CCSG will soon release the first-ever IUCN Guidelines for Conserving Connectivity through Ecological Networks and Corridors. The main objective of these Guidelines is to clarify and standardize consistent practices for the effective design, governance, and management of larger conservation networks of protected and conserved areas that are connected by designated ecological corridors.
What Is “Ecological Connectivity”?
As defined by the UN Convention on Migratory Species in February 2020, “ecological connectivity is the unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on Earth”. This definition demonstrates the importance of connectivity conservation solutions, and everything they protect, including invaluable resources like water and nutrient cycling, pollination, seed dispersal, food security, and disease resistance.
About the Guidelines
The Guidelines are the culmination of over two decades of effort by the IUCN, and the result of contributions from more than 100 experts in 30 countries. When complete, they will provide managers, policymakers, and experts across the globe with insights into the science, definitions, and principles for planning and managing for ecological connectivity, as well as 25 case studies illustrating projects around the world.
Why It Matters
Connected ecosystems are more resilient. They support plants, animals, and biological processes and permit them to persist in an increasingly human-dominated world. However, more than half of the planet is now developed and this is threatening human well-being, accelerating species loss, and limiting nature’s ability to withstand the impacts of climate change. Safeguarding ecological connectivity is a proven conservation measure, and the Guidelines bring together the most current knowledge and proven practices to lead a new global effort to combat habitat fragmentation and protect intact ecological networks for conservation.
Key messages

The Guidelines define the spaces meant to maintain, enhance, and restore connectivity; summarize best-available science; and recommend ways to formalize designated ecological corridors and networks with these messages.

  • Science overwhelmingly shows that interconnected systems of protected and conserved areas are necessary for species and natural processes to persist in the face of climate change;
  • Communities and countries around the world are working to protect ecological connectivity, and more consistent global practices can advance legislation, policy, and action;
  • A coherent global approach to connectivity conservation allows for measuring, monitoring, and assessing the effectiveness of efforts to enhance biodiversity conservation.
Example
The Kavango-Zambesi “Peace Park” project (see map below) is an example of the complexity of developing and ensuring ecological connectivity across national borders containing a mosaic of private and public lands. This area contains around one-third of all African elephants on the planet today as well as an extraordinarily rich fauna and flora.
National parks are in dark green and protected areas are in light green. The Kavango-Zambesi area includes sections of Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia and is also home to approximately 2 million people!
Sound ecological management requires careful planning aimed at ensuring corridors for wildlife moving throughout these multi-jurisdictional landscapes. Using the guidelines, complex areas like this can access and apply globally-agreed-upon standards and best practices for promoting connectivity within protected areas, increasing ecological health across the world.
Learn More
To learn more about the Guidelines and the WCPA Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group, visit www.conservationcorridor.org/CCSG or contact [email protected].

Global Dog Populations – Andrew Rowan May 2020 – Pres. Ltr.

Global Dog Populations

LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT, ANDREW ROWAN, MAY 2020

In human health management, we generally must know the size of the problem before we can manage it successfully. This is also true of the management of animals such as dogs and cats. This letter will address what we know about the number of dogs on the planet.
Dog on beach
Ray Coppinger, a world authority on dog behavior, started my investigations into global dog numbers at least 25 years ago when he asked me a simple question: How many dogs are there? At the time, we estimated that there were at least 400 million dogs, but this number has turned out to be far too low. In 2013, Matthew Gompper at the University of Missouri estimated there were around one billion domestic dogs, and his publication started my investigation of the issue in earnest.
I now agree with Gompper that there may be close to one billion domestic dogs globally, but this does not tell us where or how those dogs live. I have become disenchanted with metrics that measure dogs per square kilometer or some other unit of area. Dogs are not spread out evenly across the landscape – far from it – and are mostly clustered around humans. Therefore, a measure that compares the number of dogs to the number of humans is, in my opinion, a far more relevant and valuable way to estimate dog numbers. For several years now I have been using the measure of dogs per 1,000 humans, and I can report that dog populations in different regions and countries vary from around 1-2 per 1,000 people (on the Arabian peninsula) to as high as 800 per 1,000 humans (in rural communities in Chile).
This is a huge range, and we have very little insight into why dog numbers fluctuate so widely. It seems pretty obvious why there should be so few dogs in the Arabian Peninsula (Muslim attitudes to dogs tend to be negative), but why would Sweden have 80 dogs per 1,000 people compared to 140 in the UK and 240 in the USA? Or why would there be so few dogs in the New England states (around 110-140 per 1,000 people) and so many in some Rocky Mountain states (400 per 1,000 people in Montana)? These discrepancies are especially intriguing because these values have been stable for the past 30 to 40 years.
Fairly recently, a few colleagues and I began looking at the effect of human density on relative dog numbers. It has become evident that there is a strong inverse relationship between log human density and the relative number of dogs. A strong inverse density relationship has been found (R2 for the various trend lines ranges from 0.4 to 0.7). Such an inverse relationship has been documented for dog populations in US states, on the island of Mauritius, in the Indian state of Haryana, in Mumbai, in and around Rawalpindi in Pakistan and in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, even though the relative number of dogs varies from 10 to 400 dogs per 1,000 people and the human density varies from a few people per square kilometer to over 40,000 per square kilometer.
The inverse correlation of relative dog numbers with log human density offers an opportunity to develop reasonably reliable predictive models for dog populations in different countries.
We also need to determine whether the dogs are pets, strays or feral animals. WellBeing International is now classifying dogs as either Private dogs (mostly pets), whose movements are subject to some control, or Street dogs, whose movements are not controlled.
A child petting a dog
There will be overlap between Private dogs that are allowed to roam for some part of the day and the Street dog population, but using this two-phase classification is a simple way to describe dog populations around the world.
Several authors (e.g. Coppinger) have argued that Street dogs vastly outnumber Private dogs, but WBI has found that this is not the case. Private dogs now outnumber street dogs (perhaps by a 3:2 margin) and there has been a steady global drift – though not necessarily purposely – towards moving dogs off the streets and into homes. For example, in the USA in the 1960s it was estimated that around 25% of all dogs were Street dogs, but today Street dogs are very rare and are mostly found in inner-city or rural communities. The level of control of dogs in the USA has increased substantially since the 1960s, measured as the proportion of Private dogs entering shelters annually (from around 30% in the early 1970s to 5% today).
Other important metrics to consider when looking at global dog populations are overall per capita income and the rural/urban divide. In most High-Income Countries (HIC), Private dogs constitute the vast majority of the population (90-95% or more). In contrast, in Low-Income Countries (LIC) and Lower Middle-Income Countries (LMIC) nearly all rural dogs are Street dogs. In LIC and LMIC, a percentage of dogs in urban cities (maybe 30-60%) will be Street dogs. Thus, one can begin to draw a reasonably accurate picture of the global dog population by simply concentrating on country income levels and the proportion of the population classified as rural. Table 1 below provides estimated dog numbers for different regions of the world. The regional estimates have been derived from multiple surveys of both Private and Street dog populations. Note that Street dogs are in the majority where the rural proportion of the population is above 50%.
Global Dog Population table
The regional dog estimates indicate that there are approximately 800 million dogs existing today, of which around 300 million are Street dogs. In other words, the majority of the dogs are Private dogs living as pets or guard dogs, and Street dogs compose only around 35-40% of the total – not 85% as some have claimed. Another common misconception is that Street dogs are all unowned strays. Some are certainly strays, but many are claimed to be “owned” by one household or another. Admittedly, these “owned” Street dogs are not treated in the same way as “owned” Private dogs, but they do receive some care.
Dog populations across the world are slowly shifting from the streets to the exercise of greater control by individual households. At the same time, the number of small animal veterinary clinics is exploding. For example, Malaysia’s first small animal clinic opened in 1980 but today there are around 500. In Jaipur, India, there were only a couple of small animal clinics at the turn of the century but today there are more than ten in the city. The number of small animal veterinary clinics is likely an indirect measure of the level of control of dog populations exercised by individual households.  See also Global Dog Campaign.

Time to Act Now – Why Compassion Counts

Time to Act Now – Why Compassion Counts
April 30, 2020
by Jill Robinson, Animals Asia, MBE
Founder and CEO, Animals Asia
A typical live animal market in China (Photo by Animals Asia Foundation)
As the number of people tragically succumbing to Covid-19 grows across the world, we are left reeling with the terrible consequences of our actions and of our ongoing disregard of animal cruelty and hygiene in the live animal markets of Asia and across the world. Joining a chorus of other high-level names, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has pointed the finger at live wild animal markets as the source of diseases such as Covid-19, which has crippled and paralyzed the world. We know that approximately 75% of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans are zoonotic (animal based), accounting for billions of cases of illness and millions of deaths each year. Our treatment of animals must now surely be under the spotlight and held to full and final account.
From SARS to Covid-19, from Ebola to MERS to HIV, the global wildlife trade is implicated in every one of these infections. The whole world must take responsibility for the tragic consequences we are seeing today.
For over 34 years, Animals Asia team members and I have visited and documented the live animal markets of Asia. We have breathed in the dust and bacteria emerging from tall stacks of cages containing a wide range of miserable animals. This melting pot of disease sees the worst abuse of wild, domestic and endangered species – from farming, husbandry, transport, sanitation and welfare. As row upon row of sick and dying animals stare miserably out from behind chicken wire and bars, they shed the diseases exacerbated by the stress and cruel treatment to which they have been and are being subjected.
Fetuses aborted by stressed mothers are tossed to starving animals in the next cage. Dogs lie prone with parvo-virus as blood-drenched slime runs from their back ends, or with noses running green with the mucus of distemper, side-by-side with sneezing ferret badgers, shivering masked palm civets, flu-stricken cats, flea-ridden bamboo rats, snakes, turtles, donkeys, and bloodied three-legged victims of illegal trapping in the wild who hobble painfully away from humans brandishing wooden clubs and knives.
The greatest injustice to both humans and animals comes from those who argue against the closure of these foul and unhygienic markets, undermining the widening efforts of those who have been calling a halt to these facilities for years. Defenders argue that closing such outlets would lead to an increased risk of the wildlife trade being controlled by organized crime. But the trade is already controlled by organized crime. Far better to spend millions or even billions on defeating and ending this crime and ending the trade and wet markets now, rather than spending trillions of dollars dealing with the current and new pandemics caused by the current dysfunctional and largely corrupt components of the wildlife trade.
Cage after cage, packed with dogs trucked to market (Photo by Animals Asia Foundation)
An even more astonishing argument suggests that the world should improve regulation of wildlife markets to address animal welfare concerns. One only has to see undercover video of legal animal slaughterhouses worldwide to understand that even regulated practices surrounding live animals are woefully under-policed. Why do videos need to be undercover, and why do these places criminalize the taking of pictures if they do not have anything to hide? There is no point believing that those who supply and run the wildlife markets will conform to “improved regulations” when it is clear that attempts to implement such regulations following the 2003/2004 SARS outbreak failed miserably, leaving the world struggling with the current pandemic.
Calling on improved regulation of such markets fails to recognize that animal welfare and mitigating the risk of disease will always fall substantially short when economic gain is the main concern.
Yes, there are people who will be horribly affected if these terrible places are closed down. But responsible governments are already providing compensation and encouraging the growth of alternative livelihoods, acknowledging that viruses never distinguish between legal and illegal trade. Regulations mean nothing to the millions of stressed and compromised animals caged in rank, disgusting conditions, as they continue shedding disease.
Today, according to the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the China wildlife trade is valued at US$74 billion (that figure includes the fur industry which accounts for 74% of the total). These wild animal markets must close for good, acknowledging the truly dreadful social cost and enormous financial repercussions should another pandemic emerge, which dwarf the economic gains generated by the wildlife trade. We can no longer live in fear of being bullied by economic gain and a lust for the dollar that hijacks our health and undermines respect and compassion for life. We must support rather than sneer at those who promote compassion and animal welfare. It is our duty of care to our children and generations ahead to live harmoniously, responsibly, healthily and kindly with the creatures who share our earth.
Jill received an honorary doctorate in veterinary science from the University of Zurich, Switzerland in 2012, and an honorary law degree from the University of Nottingham Ningbo China in 2014.
This article is an edited version of the post that originally appeared on the Animals Asia’s website on April 15, 2020.

Don’t Blame Wildlife for Covid-19

Don’t Blame Wildlife for Covid-19
April 30, 2020
By Mark Jones BVSc, MSc (Stir), MSc (UL), MRCVS,
Head of Policy, Born Free Foundation
The coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the world is causing physical, social and economic disruption on an unprecedented scale.
By April 21, 2020, around 2.5 million Covid-19 cases had been reported across the world. More than 170,000 people had died, and the numbers keep rising. A huge proportion of the world’s population is in some form of lockdown as countries try to slow the spread of the virus. The cost to the global economy is predicted to run into several trillions of dollars.
The strain of coronavirus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic is thought to have originated from wildlife. There has been much speculation over whether bats, snakes or pangolins, or some combination of these were the sources of the original human cases in Wuhan, China. However, importantly, whichever species are ultimately confirmed as the agents that transmitted the virus to people, wildlife is not to blame for the current pandemic.
A Flying Fox (Bat) – Yarra Bend Park, Melbourne, Australia by CraigRJD
Covid-19 is an example of a zoonotic disease – one that can spread from animals to humans. Many infectious agents have the potential to be zoonotic. The World Health Organisation estimates that 60% of all human infectious diseases recognized so far are zoonoses, and about 75% of emerging infectious diseases that have affected people over the past three decades originated from wild animals.
Recent human zoonotic epidemics include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus which also emerged in southern China in 2002, which infected more than 8,000 people and resulted in 774 deaths. SARS is thought to have originated in bats and made its way to people via civets. Other notable examples of zoonotic epidemics include Ebola, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and HIV.
SARS was considered a serious global epidemic. But although some jurisdictions in affected areas temporarily closed down wildlife markets at the time, they quickly reopened once the epidemic had subsided. Critically, the lessons we should have learned then were soon forgotten.
The impact of SARS has been dwarfed by that of Covid-19.
Viruses and other infectious agents with zoonotic potential circulate within wildlife populations all the time. In the past, however, most would never have made the jump to people, or if they did their impact would have been extremely limited.
Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, South Africa by Shongololo90
The reasons why zoonoses are becoming so problematic in today’s world lie in the way we humans interact with and exploit wildlife and natural habitats. Relentless development in pursuit of economic growth has carved inroads into wild habitats, granting easy access to poachers, traders, traffickers, and facilitating the collection and export of wildlife. Ill-advised expansion of human settlements into wildlife areas irrevocably leads to increasing contact, and often conflict, with wild animals.
Rapidly expanding human populations are placing massive demands on wildlife for nutritional and medicinal uses. Increasing disposable incomes among a burgeoning middle class have resulted in the commodification of wild animals as exotic foods, traditional medicines, “health tonics”, pets, high-end gifts, status symbols or investments.
Trade in wild animals, both legal and illegal, has grown exponentially. Wild animals are collected, farmed, transported, exported and traded in huge numbers, more often than not in appalling and unsanitary conditions. Crowding, stress and injury among such animals provide the perfect environment for pathogens to spread and mutate, and their close proximity to people during capture, farming, transportation, butchering, processing and trade creates many opportunities for human transmission.
What may once have been small-scale subsistence use of wildlife has become commercialised on a massive scale, facilitated by an unfettered global communications and travel infrastructure, with dire consequences for conservation, animal welfare and human health.
Several international conventions, institutions and conservation professionals continue to promote the idea of “sustainable” use of and trade in wildlife, as a means of giving monetary value to wild animals thereby incentivising their protection. As a result of decades of promotion by government, wildlife farming in China is estimated to be worth $74 billion dollars. In South Africa, the government has now listed 130 wild species as livestock as part of its “sustainable use” policies. However, when the potential costs of such activities are factored in, in terms of wildlife decline, the scale of animal suffering and the impact of pandemics such as Covid-19 on human lives and the global economy, the whole concept of sustainability clearly needs to be re-thought.
More immediately, the knee-jerk reaction from some has been a call for the extermination of animals that are perceived as a risk. We are already seeing reports from China and other countries of people calling for bat roosts to be destroyed. Pangolins, those gentle, shy, scaly insectivores that have already been devastated by poaching for their scales and meat, could be next on the target list. But it is not the animals themselves that are to blame. Destroying bat roosts or persecuting pangolins will do nothing to reduce the risk of future human health catastrophes; in fact, it could make things considerably worse as the balance of the natural world is further disrupted.
Back in 2015, Bill Gates warned that we needed to prepare for a global pandemic and called for planning to be put in place. Last year, eminent scientists from across the world identified the need for “transformative changes” in our relationship with nature if we are to stop and reverse the catastrophic and unprecedented declines in wildlife and biodiversity that we are causing, primarily through habitat destruction and commercial exploitation. Covid-19 has confirmed that change is needed, not only to protect the natural world but also to prevent future pandemics. Wildlife markets, with their vast array of wild animals with which people would not normally interact directly in the wild, certainly increase the possibility of harmful pathogens “jumping” to humans. The commercial capture, ranching, farming, trade and consumption of wildlife in all its forms, with its dire consequences for biodiversity, animal welfare and human health, must end.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a prominent member of the US White House coronavirus task force, was recently quoted as saying, “It just boggles my mind that how, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface [wildlife markets], that we don’t just shut it down. I don’t know what else has to happen to get us to appreciate that.” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation, has stated that “governments must rigorously enforce bans on the sale and trade of wildlife for food.” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, acting Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, said, “The message we are getting is if we don’t take care of nature, it will take care of us. It would be good to ban the live animal markets…” Many other experts are adding their voices to the calls for change.
However, we need to dig deeper still and reset our fundamental relationship with the natural world, rethink our place in it and treat our planet and all its inhabitants with a great deal more respect, for its sake and for ours.
One thing is for certain. Once Covid-19 is hopefully behind us, returning to business as usual cannot be an option.