The Mirpuri Foundation participated in the event “Impact of COVID-19 on wildlife trafficking”, hosted by United for Wildlife team. The webinar was organized to share potential outcomes on wildlife, how it is being affected by the current pandemic, and how the world can respond to it.

It also covered the most effective ways in which industries can make a positive impact against illegal wildlife trade, the key challenges and ways to solve them. After reviewing these possible scenarios the group was able to answer some questions and discuss the topic before closing remarks. 

The Mirpuri Foundation was also representing Hi Fly, as its the principal sustainability partner. The airline joined the Transport Taskforce in 2019 and has committed to recognising the devastating impact of the illegal wildlife trade. On joining the taskforce, Hi Fly immediately adopted a zero-tolerance policy on illegal wildlife trafficking in a bid to end the illegal practice. Additionally, Hi Fly committed to increase awareness of the nature, scale and consequences of the illegal wildlife trade to its passengers, customers, clients and staff.

So what is happening at the moment with illegal wildlife trade?
The truth is that, even though the spreading of COVID-19 is raising awareness on illegal wildlife trade, indications are that it isn’t slowing down the problem. The global pandemic has caused some disruptions but it isn’t interfering with supply availability, or demand patterns. It may even go the opposite way, clearing the market for more trafficking and poaching opportunities.

Poaching may increase in some areas, mostly the ones where tourism has slowed down due to the crisis. This happens mainly because local organizations or countries might have fewer means to tackle this problem, due to the health and financial crisis.

Macroeconomic shocks may impact the industry, as well as legal restrictions that were set on selling wildlife products because of the pandemic. Also, shifting the business to an online market, given the current situation, may expose dealers and smugglers, if cyber operations are to exist. If not, the market will thrive, operations will expand.

Even though passengers won’t use air travel for smuggling, smugglers will focus on air cargo or maritime shipments, as the current restrictions don’t apply for cargo.

Traditional Chinese medicine will be used as a way to smuggle illegal wildlife through illegal means, and corruption might increase, given the economic impact on countries.

But this crisis might be raising an opportunity for unity against this crime. Wildlife tracking might be seen in the long term as the ultimate cause for COVID-19 and this might be a vulnerability for the trade. Countries should be pro-active in their communications efforts against trading and consuming illegal wildlife. If no action is taken against traffickers, this lucrative crime will become as profitable as it has been.

The world also needs to recognize how animals are linked to most pandemics, and serve the current one as an example to fight illegal wildlife trade. This isn’t just a conservation issue, it is also a health issue, and one we need to solve.