Giving up wildlife consumption critical to eliminating disease transmission risks hinh anh 1Wild birds openly offered for sale at Thanh Hoa Market in the Mekong Delta province of Long An (Photo: VietnamPlus)

Hanoi (VNA) – Scientific studies initially suggested that COVID-19 came from a wild animal which could possibly be bats. However, many others said bats should not be blamed for the transmission of the disease that is changing the life of people around the world, but humans’ wild meat eating habit.

Origin of coronavirus in question

After more than three months since the appearance of COVID-19, though scientists haven’t had any studies confirming the origin of SARS-CoV-2, it is a worrying fact that the appearance and spread of similar diseases caused by coronaviruses in the past like the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) were all linked with wild animals like bats, small Indian civets, camels, and pangolins.

Therefore, the information that COVID-19 could originate from a wild species has been drawing great attention in both Vietnam and the world, especially amid complex developments of trans-national wildlife trafficking.

The focus of attention is why the viruses causing these pandemics and coming from wild animals that originally live separately from humans like bats could be passed to human and then spread around the globe.

According to international zoologists and disease experts, human activities like destroying the natural habitat and eating meat of wild animals have enabled the diseases originally existing in the wild to be transmitted to humans and then from human to human.

Given these concerns, the National Assembly Standing Committee on February 24 approved a resolution on banning the trade and use of terrestrial animals and notified this to 182 other parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

This indicates that preventing disease transmission from wild animals is now an urgent need.

Giving up wildlife consumption critical to eliminating disease transmission risks hinh anh 2Wild birds with unclear origin slaughtered and offered for sale openly at Thanh Hoa Market in Long An province (Photo: VietnamPlus)

In Vietnam, the Forest Protection Department said though the Government has invested much in preserving biodiversity and preventing and dealing with illegal wildlife hunting, trade and consumption, such acts still exist.

[WWF calls for permanent shutdown of wildlife markets over COVID-19 concerns]

Statistics show that from January 2018 to May 31, 2019, the forest protection force in coordination with relevant agencies examined, uncovered and handled 560 violation cases related to rare and endangered animals.

Most recently, basing on VietnamPlus’s report, the Forest Protection Department worked with the Forest Protection Sub-department of Long An province and local relevant agencies to check wildlife trading activities at Thanh Hoa Market from March 12 to 15.

The team discovered more than 400 individuals with some belonging to the species listed in Group IB and IIB of the Vietnam Red Data Book, which are those in danger of extinction and in need of protection and limited exploitation for commercial purposes, like otters, monkeys, iguanas, and greater adjutants, along with 30kg of snakes with unclear origin.

However, this was only the tip of the iceberg as the trade, poaching, and eating of wild animals occur nationwide, particularly the country’s largest illegal wildlife trading area in Long An.

It is worrying that if such activities are not strictly controlled, they will pose risks of disease transmission from animals to humans, thus threatening public health as well as the economy, the Vietnam Forest Protection Department emphasised.

Giving up wildlife consumption critical to eliminating disease transmission risks hinh anh 3The owner of the Yen Tam store at Thanh Hoa Market offers a wild snake to a buyer (Photo: VietnamPlus)

Stringent penalties needed

Facing that fact, the Government Office recently requested the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) to coordinate with other ministries and sectors to draft a Prime Minister’s directive on urgent solutions to strictly prevent, manage and control the illegal trade, hunting, transport, storage and use of wild animals and submit this drat to the Prime Minister before April 1.

At the online discussion on the draft held on March 27, most of the experts from ministries, sectors and conservation organisations affirmed that making a directive on banning wildlife trade is a right move in the face of this urgent issue.

The move is even more important as the trade and transportation of wild animals remain complicated, pushing many species to the brink of extinction, adversely affecting the economy, and posing risks of disease transmission to humans.

Meanwhile, the prevention and settlement of violations are still facing numerous difficulties as investigations are usually prolonged and there haven’t been any bases for assessing the value of seized animals.

Given the abovementioned problems, scientists and conservationists proposed the MARD order the Vietnam CITES Management Authority to tighten the granting of licenses, review and report on violating individuals and organisations, and issue official tools for animal identification. They also suggested this ministry demand the Vietnam Forest Protection Department and forest owners to increase patrols and strictly deal with violations while enhancing penalties and issuing detailed guidance for wild animal management.

They called on the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to monitor and assess impact of the illegal wildlife trade and consumption on the environment and biodiversity, verify and approve wildlife protection plans, and update the Vietnam Red Data Book.

The Ministry of Health should also contribute opinions about public health to the draft directive, examine makers of products with ingredients hailing from wild species, report and handle violations, and raise traditional medicine producers’ awareness of the use of wild animal products.

Giving up wildlife consumption critical to eliminating disease transmission risks hinh anh 4The online discussion on wildlife management and protection on March 27.

Besides, scientists and conservationists also proposed the Ministry of Public Security intensify the fight against wildlife crime and provide training in investigation skills for forest rangers so as to meet requirements in forest management and animal conservation.

The Ministry of Information and Communications should block advertisements for wild animal products and order media outlets to increase communications about wildlife protection and crime.

The Supreme People’s Procuracy and the Supreme People’s Court should stringently deal with wildlife crime while boosting investigation and identification of seized items that are wild animals, along with prosecution and trying of those committing violations.

All-level People’s Committees should also step up managing and identifying wild species, settling infringements, examining local wildlife trading sites, and imposing administrative and criminal penalties./.

Some regulations on wildlife management and protection:

- In the 2017 Law on Forestry, Article 9 prohibits the illegally hunting, catching, raising, caging, slaughtering, storing, transporting and trade of forest animals; as well as the illegally collection of specimens of forest plant or animal species.

- In the 2018 Law on Biodiversity, Article 7 prohibits the hunting, catching and exploitation of wild species in strictly protected zones of protected areas; along with the hunting, catching and exploitation of parts of bodies, and the illegal slaughtering, consumption, transportation, purchase and sale of those in the lists of endangered and rare species of protection priority.

- In the 2014 Investment Law, Annex 3 lists prohibited business sectors and conditional ones, including the lists of critically endangered and rare wild species that are banned from exploitation and use for investment and business purposes.

- The Prime Minister’s Directive No. 03/CT-TTg in 2014 and Directive No. 28/CT-TTg in 2016 on some urgent solutions to prevent and fight against wildlife crime feature concrete and strong solutions to combat this crime.

- The 2015 Penal Code, revised and supplemented in 2017, stipulates that those breaking regulations on protection of wild animals and endangered and rare wild animals are subject to penalties of up to 15 years in prison, and fines of up to 2 billion VND for individuals and 15 billion VND for legal entities.