The taking of animals for wild meat consumption poses significant threats of spreading diseases from animals to humans such as coronavirus into the human population, according to a United Nations report released on Wednesday this week.
The report, published by Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the UN Environment Program showed strong linkages between human activities with zoonotic outbreaks, including indications from scientists who believe the current COVID-19 pandemic originated in the wild meat trade.
The taking of wild meat and consumption has been identified as the direct and causative agent for the spill-over into humans for Monkeypox virus, SARS, Sudan Ebola virus and Zaire Ebola virus, with subsequent human-to-human transmission.
In total, 60 zoonotic viral pathogens were reported as hosted by the 105 migratory species studied.
Researchers said encroachment into remaining intact habitats through infrastructure and economic activities have made vast new areas accessible for wild meat taking, increasing the risk for humans.
Executive director of the UN Environment Programme, Inger Andersen, said that "the COVID-19 pandemic has taught that the overexploitation of nature comes at a heavy cost."
"We urgently need to depart from business as usual. In so doing, we can save many species from the brink of extinction and protect ourselves from future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases," she said.
According to the study, 70 percent of mammal species protected under the CMS are used for wild meat consumption.
This has led to drastic declines and also the extinction of several migratory mammal populations.
The first of its kind report, found that wild meat is often a major driver for legal and illegal hunting, particularly of ungulates - primarily large mammals with hooves - and primates and especially during times of conflict or famine and in the course of changing land use.
About 67 of the 105 species studied were recorded as hunted. Of these 67 species, the largest intended use (47) was for wild meat consumption. Other purposes were down to cultural tradition, medicinal use, human-wildlife conflict, unintentional take and for sport or trophy hunting.
CMS executive secretary, Amy Fraenkel, said this report: "indicates for the first time a clear and urgent need to focus on domestic use of protected migratory species of wild animals, across their range."
The study highlights a number of factors fueling the problem.
National legislation and regulations may lack clarity or are outdated, while rules are often poorly enforced.
A third issue is civil conflict and land use change and fourthly, migratory animals cross countries and regions with a wide variety of differing laws and enforcement approaches.
Finally, urbanisation and increased sale of wild meat as a luxury product is on the rise.