Thailand admits wildlife markets may be harmful to humans

25 Feb 2021

After seemingly doing an about-face over whether Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market could be the source of Covid-19, the Thai Ministry of Public Health is praised. After health officials denied that the World Health Organisation was investigating the market, the Ministry acknowledged that wildlife trade may endanger public health at a recent live press conference on Facebook. 

The recent WHO investigation of Wuhan, the Chinese province where Covid19 is thought to have originated, concluded that the virus most likely did not come from a laboratory, and instead came from animals supplied by Chinese wildlife farms or from infected animals traded somewhere in Southeast Asia.

A Danish virologist on the WHO investigation team pointed to the Bangkok market as a potential source of the Covid19 virus, as Chatuchak Market is arguably the region's largest illegal wildlife trade market. 

The Thai Ministry of Public Health is now collaborating closely with the Ministry of the Environment and its National Parks Department to inspect the Chatuchak market and to adopt a joint plan to increase the protection of wildlife and stop the wildlife trade in the markets. 

Historically, Southeast Asia has supplied most of China's trade in wildlife, which the virologist sees as worrisome. Pathogens that could compromise an immune system of a human can be carried by commercially traded animals. In 2019, for example, zebras legally imported into Thailand carried a small fly species that jumped into local horses, causing African Horse Sickness. The mortality rate, resulting in over 600 horse deaths, was over 90 percent. 

Some animals, like the SARS virus, are especially susceptible to viruses hosted by bats. This virus jumped from a bat-infected civet cat. Rabies and Ebola have other viruses thought to have jumped from bats to other animals. Minks and Pangolins have also been discovered to have a coronavirus and are still commercially traded in Southeast Asia today.

Chatuchak Market continues to sell ferrets, coati, civets, polecats, mongoose, raccoons, meerkats, scarlet macaws, capybara, African gray parrots, cougars, multiple species of turtles, snakes, rodents, and lizards from Latin America, Africa, and Australia in a spot check run by Freeland, a global non-profit organization.
 

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