Man standing behind caged civets (© Liu Dawei/Xinhua/AP Images)
Caged civets in a wildlife market in Guangzhou, China, in 2004. Studies link trafficked animals like these to disease outbreaks. (© Liu Dawei/Xinhua/AP Images)

China and other countries should shut down markets that are hot spots for wildlife trafficking and threaten public safety, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said April 22.

He said certain markets that sell live wildlife for human consumption “may have played a critical role in the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The secretary noted the strong link between wildlife sold in these markets and diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people, called zoonotic diseases. These animals are often slaughtered at the markets, creating unsanitary conditions.

Closing such markets “would reduce risks to human health inside and outside of China and discourage the consumption of trafficked wildlife and wildlife products,” the secretary said.

Man on street holding large animal by tail (© Vincent Yu/AP Images)
A stall owner displays a flying squirrel in the Xin Yuan market in Guangzhou, a city in southeastern China. (© Vincent Yu/AP Images )

The spread of SARS and the H5N1 avian flu virus have been linked to such live animal markets.

Early scientific research on the origins of COVID-19 has linked it to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, which is reported to have sold snakes, beavers, crocodiles and porcupines.

China is the largest market for illegal wildlife in the world, according to a 2018 report on China’s role in wildlife trafficking and its government’s response.

“We call on all governments to join our efforts to combat and put an end to the scourge that is wildlife trafficking,” Pompeo said.