The COVID-19 pandemic, which began spreading in a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan, China, shone a spotlight on zoonotic diseases and the risks that markets selling wild meat can pose to human health. Following the outbreak, some countries like China temporarily closed down wet markets, while others like Vietnam banned the wildlife trade outright. A WWF survey found that the overall consumption of wildlife dropped by 30% in Southeast Asia and the U.S.
On the surface, the pandemic may seem to have deterred people from consumption and trade of wildlife due to restrictions and awareness about zoonoses. However, a new study published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice reveals a more complex picture. The study, part of a bigger livelihood survey of hunting communities in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, interviewed hunters living near protected areas to understand how COVID-19 has impacted their livelihoods. The survey found that the wildlife trade declined during the pandemic, but hunting and forest visits in protected areas increased to make up for lost jobs and to supplement income.
“The study aims to get a more holistic picture of hunting and trying to put conservation into practice, so we could intervene positively to reduce hunting and also ensure these communities are stable,” says lead author Elizabeth Davis, a researcher at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.