"Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on China to shut down wet markets where illegal wildlife are sold. Pompeo’s call was echoed by the Australian government, which on the same day urged G20 countries to take action on wildlife markets in order to reduce the risk of new diseases like COVID-19 spilling over into humans in the future.
Lost in both statements was a recognition of the complexity of China’s wildlife trade or the scale of the challenge it now faces. Wet markets have shouldered much of the blame for the deadly pandemic, but few of those markets sell wildlife and those that do only account for a portion of a supply chain that involves millions of people and vast sums of money. Unwinding China’s wildlife industry – which serves as the primary means of survival for many of those people – will be far from straightforward.
Some new polling data shows high levels of support in the region for shutting down illegal wildlife markets, even in countries where consumption of wildlife is considered a delicacy. China’s provisional ban on eating wildlife has earned praise from conservation groups as a good start, but sorting out the line between legal and illegal markets has already proved tricky.
Key sectors of China’s wildlife industry remain free from new regulations – including those that sell products made from animals known to carry coronaviruses. Traditional medicine, for example, includes the use of remedies made from bats and pangolins, but producers serving that market have so far escaped the kind of harsh new restrictions that the wildlife consumption industry faces."