The connection between coronavirus and wildlife



The source of the coronavirus is believed to be from a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, where animals such as snakes, civet cats, bats and birds are sold, mostly for food consumption.

Following initial genetic analysis, there are concerns that wild caught snakes being sold at the market illegally is potentially one of the sources of China’s deadly coronavirus, based on a recent research paper published in the Journal of Medical Virology on 22nd January 2020.

The exotic pet trade

Coronavirus is highly suspected to be transmitted from wild animals to humans because of close contact between wildlife and humans.

People’s interest in having close contact with wild animals (for food or as exotic pets) puts us at risk of exposure to zoonotic diseases, as wildlife harbor a large and often unknown reservoir of infectious diseases.

Don’t become a victim, pledge today not keep wildlife as pets  

Is there a demand to keep wild animals as pets in China?

The boom in trading of wildlife as exotic pets over the last few years, lists China as the world's third-biggest pet owners after the United States and Japan.

By 2016, about 1.3 billion Chinese people, that’s one in thirteen, owned a pet. The Chinese pet market is expected to surpass 300 billion yuan (44.67 billion U.S. dollars) by 2023, according to a report by Shenzhen-based Qianzhan Industry Research Institute.[1]

An increasing number of Chinese pet-lovers are turning towards exotic animals including birds, reptiles and even insects, over cats and dogs, in a desire to have the most unique and interesting pet.

What most consumers do not understand is that a wild animal may be host to potentially infectious microbes and microparasites making any animal a possible carrier of infection and infestation, even when they show no symptoms of disease.

What are the animal welfare concerns attached to Coronavirus?


Risks to wild animals:

There is immense and intense animal suffering associated with the trade of wildlife irrespective of whether it is legal or illegal, whether the animals were sourced from the wild or commercially bred in captivity, or whether consumers want them dead or alive. In 2019, we uncovered the live cruelty behind wildlife trade. Catch more on this video 

As a case in point at a typical “wet market” such as the one in Wuhan, China, which has served as the believed epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak. Large numbers of animals will be kept in poor hygiene, often left to sit in their own urine and faeces prior to onward sale or inhumane slaughter. They develop weakened immunities due to stress. This lack of hygiene combined with direct human contact creates a hotbed for viruses to mutate and develop.   


Snakes, lizards and turtles sold at markets like that reported in Wuhan province, China, and in many other markets across the world, have suffered horrendous conditions before they get there. They’ve either been captured in the wild, stuffed together in bags or small cages for transportation to the market, or intensively bred in ranches and farms where they are kept in overcrowded containers. Either way, these conditions are incubators for the transmission of disease and the evolution of more virulent pathogens.


To capture birds that are intended for live use as exotic pets, poachers may use techniques like glue traps, nets, or even use a lure bird to trap wild individuals. These unfortunate animals will often have their flight feathers brutally chopped off to prevent them from escaping. They are then crammed into small, dirty containers and kept at markets prior to onward sale. Even those birds that are ‘lucky’ enough to survive this type of horrific ordeal are likely to suffer a life of misery, kept in captivity in conditions that are a far cry from the life that they are should live in the wild. 


To source mammals, like pangolins, hunters will typically use dogs to track down the terrified animals, that often try to hide in a refuge such as a hollowed-out tree. The hunters will use axes to cut down the trees to gain access, but if this fails to remove the desperate animal, they will light a fire in the tree to smoke them out. As the pangolin starts to suffocate and lose consciousness, it may try to make a bolt for freedom, but is likely to be captured, bagged and taken to a hut where the next stage of the ordeal takes place. The pangolins are often repeatedly bludgeoned with a machete until they can barely move. While bleeding, it will often be thrown into boiling water to finally kill it. 

What are the risks to people and animals?

Zoonotic diseases, such as coronavirus have serious large-scale impacts on human health; they cause about a billion cases of human illness and millions of deaths every year. In recent decades, outbreaks such as Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and avian influenza have proven particularly deadly.

Zoonotic Diseases

Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases, caused by a variety of pathogenic agents (including bacteria, parasites, fungi, viruses and prions) that are naturally transmitted from vertebrate mammals to humans and vice versa.

Zoonotic infections have always featured among the wide range of human diseases and most (e.g. anthrax, tuberculosis, plague, yellow fever and influenza) have come from domestic animals, poultry and livestock.

However, with changes in the environment, habitat and human behaviour, increasingly these infections are emerging from wildlife species to the extent that wildlife is thought to be the source of at least 70% of all emerging diseases.

For example, the expansion of road networks and the development of agricultural land have facilitated the spread of Nipah virus, West Nile virus, influenza A H5N1, monkeypox, SARS, HIV and other novel pathogens throughout the world. 





People’s interest in having close contact with wild animals (for food or as exotic pets) puts us at risk of exposure to zoonotic diseases, as wildlife harbor a large and often unknown reservoir of infectious diseases.