Formal Information

Stuff that matters

If we’ve got any sense then one result of this pandemic, which was first detected in a seafood market in China, will be that humans learn to treat animals better.

That should include banning UK travel firms from promoting holidays to venues that exploit elephants, a known source of infections.

Elephants in the worst tourist sites across Asia are captured in the wild while still infants and horribly abused to make them submissive to human commands. It is constant fear that keeps them in control at Asian theme parks, circus shows and religious festivals.

If that’s not a good enough reason to boycott this trade then there’s a more selfish one: elephants transmit tuberculosis to humans and are a likely conduit for other diseases.

Duncan McNair, chief executive of Save the Asian Elephants, says he has identified 110 British travel companies that are members of ABTA that ignore voluntary guidelines to stop promoting the worst venues, arguing that only a legal ban will be effective.

In total, he says, STAE has found 871 UK-based companies promoting “the most violent Asian elephant-related venues”, mainly in India and Thailand.

“STAE has recorded numerous broken promises of change, showing the futility of blandishments as a substitute for law and sanctions,” he said.

Dr Clifford Warwick, of the Emergent Disease Foundation, says it is entirely possible that a captive elephant population could be infected with coronavirus, which would then be transmitted back to humans in close contact with them, including tourists.

He is also calling for an end to a controversy closer to home – a market selling snakes and amphibians that takes place four times a year at Doncaster Racecourse.

“Covid-19 is but one of a myriad of global pandemics that has origins in or around wildlife markets,” he says.

“Yet this devastating disease might almost as easily have emerged from wildlife markets in the UK.

“In my view, it is a matter of time until a new pandemic arises, and places such as Doncaster cannot be ruled out as possible future ‘ground zeros’.

“Wherever many stressed wild animals are gathered and displayed or sold, the health and welfare of animals and people can become serious concerns.”

Elaine Toland of the Animal Protection Agency, which is campaigning for an end to all trading in wildlife for pets, said: “Our government, and those of other Western countries, need to wake up to the very real risks that wildlife markets pose – both to animals and people. We are in no position to criticise China when inhumane wild animal markets still continue here.”

The APA argues that the trading of animals as pets at markets is illegal in the UK and that the Doncaster event only continues due to poor local authority enforcement.

“The event, misleadingly described as a ‘show’ with ‘exhibitors’, is in fact a commercially-driven wild animal market at which little regard is paid to animal welfare or public health,” it states.

The council denies the claim.

“These events lawfully take place in accordance with the exemptions contained in the DEFRA regulations which state a licence is not required,” said Director of Economy and Environment, Dan Swaine.

“This is on the basis that, ‘an infrequent sale of a small number of surplus offspring/excess stock by private individuals to other breeders and/or members of the public’ and, an ‘Organised event where people meet to sell surplus animals they have bred, or animals that are surplus to their requirements, whether or not this is open to the public’ does not require a licence.

“The authority has previously engaged with the organisers of the event and officers will attend events to ensure that it continues to operate under the terms of the exemptions contained in the regulations.’’

The Doncaster shows are run by the International Herpetological Society and the next event is due to take place on June 27 this year. It declined to comment on the record.

The group World Animal Protection is also calling for an end to the shows.

“We urge Doncaster Racecourse to keep the doors closed on wildlife markets at its venue,” said Peter Kemple, Wildlife Campaign Manager.

“Over 68,000 people have signed our petition calling for an end to the suffering that takes place at this event. In the wake of a global pandemic that has emerged from the wildlife trade, it’s time to bring an end to the cruel exploitation of wild animals. Wild animals belong in the wild, not kept as pets.”