Trade in wild animals thriving on social media amid Covid-19

Illegal wildlife trade on social media networks is thriving, with wild animals sometimes sold as “lockdown pets”, despite Covid-19 restrictions and the risk of animal to human disease transmission, says a study of advertisements on Facebook.

The research published in the journal of Environmental Research showed despite the known risk of animal to human transmission of disease, there is no clear evidence that the online wildlife trade was discouraged or decreased amid the pandemic.

Examining advertisements on Facebook in Brazil and Indonesia, the researchers found thousands of posts advertising wild animals, with a potential audience of over 200,000 people.

Indeed, only 0.44 per cent of over 20,000 online wildlife trade advertisements had any Covid-19-related content.

“We anticipated that we would see many posts mentioning Covid-19 regarding the potential dangers of wildlife trade or using it as a reason for a temporary cessation of sales,” said study co-author Anna Nekaris, Professor at Oxford Brookes University in England.

“Instead, advertisements mentioning Covid-19 often stimulated wildlife trade, suggesting the pandemic was a great time to buy an exotic pet for companionship, for example.”

With the current global pandemic of Covid-19, the role of wild animals in emerging infectious diseases (EID) is in the spotlight.

Human-animal transmission has been documented in previous virus outbreaks such as SARS and MERS.

Several of the early cases of Covid-19 were linked to a wet market in Wuhan, China, although there is, as yet, not enough evidence to conclude how the virus transmitted to humans.

Despite the known risk of animal to human transmission of disease, the new research found that no traders or consumers discussed the role of wildlife trade in spreading diseases.

Instead, discounts were given, home delivery services were provided, and customers encouraged to spend larger amounts of time due to lockdown with the animals, said the study.