Researchers at The University of Western Australia have found COVID-19 has had little impact on the online illicit wildlife trade market with traders and consumers continuing to do business despite the current global pandemic.
The international study by UWA and Oxford Brookes University, published in Environmental Research, found no clear evidence that the online wildlife trade was discouraged or decreased and advertisements that mentioned COVID-19 in fact stimulated wildlife trade.
The focus on the potential association of COVID-19 with wildlife markets has drawn attention from those who disagree with the trade and consumption of wild animals, and petitions and campaigns have emerged discouraging the purchase of wildlife products and demanding governments ban wildlife trade in several countries.
However, it was unknown whether sellers and buyers responded to the association of COVID-19 with wildlife trade and to existing calls for banning wildlife trade.
The researchers examined the trade advertisements on Facebook for two megadiverse countries – Brazil and Indonesia – to understand how and when sellers and buyers incorporated and reacted to the discussion on COVID-19.
They found thousands of posts advertising wild animals, with a potential audience of 200,000 people across the two countries.
Only 0.44 per cent of the more than 20,000 online wildlife trade advertisements had any COVID-19-related content and those that mentioned COVID-19 often stimulated wildlife trade, with sellers suggesting the pandemic was a great time to buy an exotic pet for companionship.
Co-author Kim Feddema, a PhD student from UWA’s Business School, said stopping wild animal trade could limit contact between human populations and wild species however a flat-out ban was not the solution to reducing illicit trade.
“The links between wildlife trade and infectious diseases are very concerning however what we find is that purely focusing on the risk of transmission as justification for widespread bans may not be effective on the ground,” Ms Feddema said.
“In order to have meaningful change that protects wild species and humans, it is imperative that we take into account the complexity of the situation and listen to what the traders themselves are telling us.
“Increased governance on social media sites that allow the trade of wildlife is needed if we are to see a stop not only to extinctions but the increased risk of further pandemics.”