Wildlife Trade and Health

Wildlife Trade and Health

One of the most destructive luxuries of many people is to take an animal from its wild environment and make it a household pet. Every year, 224 million live animals are imported into the United States. This is destructive in many ways. The Center for Biological Diversity, associated with the United Nations, reports that at the present rate of the wildlife trade, a million species are facing extinction in the wild.

Even more frightening is the fact that zoonotic transfer is now well understood. Zoonotic means that a disease has jumped from wildlife to people. We know that HIV, SARS, avian flu, and Ebola are all zoonotic. There is every indication that COVID-19 also originated in a live wildlife market in China. There is a great need to shut down the wildlife trade.

The idea of humans having animal pets is alien to the Bible. In the Garden of Eden, humans were gatherers using plant material for food. After Adam and Eve left the garden, people domesticated animals, and sheep became the primary source of clothing and meat. In Genesis 8 and 9, Noah brought the animals onto the ark for safety. While God allows us to use animals as food (Genesis 9:3), there is a clear understanding of the separation of wild animals and humans. “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that lives on the earth and upon all the fishes of the sea…” (Genesis 9:2). The wildlife trade is foreign to the scriptures.

Humans domesticated certain animals for defensive reasons (like dogs), but the desire for “cuteness” is more a fixture of modern wealth than anything else. Very few of us buy live animals for food. You take a risk and responsibility in having any animal as a pet, but having a wild animal as a pet is inviting disaster in the form of disease.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from the fall 2020 issue of Nature’s Voice from the Natural Resources Defense Council.