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Wet markets and pandemic, when nature takes care of us.

"Clearly the men were so imbued with themselves that they could not imagine that anyone could have had enough of them, to see them, to smell them, and to go and live among the elephants simply because there is no better company in the world". Thus Romain Gary depicts Morel, protagonist of "The roots of Heaven", his 1954 novel. Former Gaullist partisan, Morel unleashes a guerrilla war against poachers and institutions in French colonial Africa. The devouring obsession is to end the hunt for all animal species, starting with elephants, exterminated to feed the ivory trade. The petition that the rebel intends to impose on the upcoming international political assembly is signed only by an enamored bartender and a drunkard. In the ante litteram environmentalist masterpiece, Gary denounced the conquering western civilization, polar star of the XX and XXI century.

The issue of illegal wildlife trafficking has aroused renewed interest with the explosion of the Covid-19 pandemic, which was most likely triggered in a wet market in Wuhan, where, it is assumed, the coronavirus hosted by bats passed to man, perhaps making a stop in the pangolins, small insectivorous mammals slaughtered for the thaumaturgical power of its armored-like scales and the ornamental charm of its claws. Wet markets, present mainly in Southeast Asia, owe their name to the practice of exposing freshly slaughtered animals on ice beds, often lying on the ground. Porcupines, wild pigs, wolf cubs, dogs, cats, crocodiles, snakes, turtles and stingrays are considered as noble meat, symbols of wealth and social prestige. The problem does not lie in cultural alterity, but in the unsustainable hygienic conditions in which trade and capture, often entrusted to poachers, take place.

"The message that has come to us these days is that if we don't take care of nature, nature will take care of us" said only few days ago Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. “Live animal markets should be banned, but we must remember that there are communities, especially in poor and rural areas, especially in Africa, which depend on wild animals to support the lives of millions of people. Unless alternatives are created, there may be a danger of stimulating illegal trade, which is already leading us to the extinction of many species. Preserving ecosystems and biodiversity will help us reduce the spread of some of these diseases. The way we cultivate and use soil, protect coastal ecosystems and treat our forests will ruin the future or help us to live longer", added Mrena. According to an IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) report, 25% of animal species are now threatened with extinction.

The UN has asked China to make the wet markets closure permanent. Now it has been temporarily imposed on its citizens for obvious health reasons and less obvious opportunities of political communication. According to a survey carried out by the Canadian company Globescan, shared by the WWF, the vast majority of customers of live animal markets in Japan, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam are in favor of supporting government initiatives that lead to the closure of wild trade.

According to the Zoological Society of London, 30 million fish and 1.5 million coral colonies are sold worldwide every year. If 70% of exporters reside in Southeast Asia, the 80% of buyers live in the United States, Europe and Japan. Part of this huge animal trafficking is illegal, travels through the deep web mazes. All seven species that make up the family of sea turtles are at risk of extinction. Their shell is used to create jewelry and furnishings, their flesh for therapeutic practices. The trade in shark fins, used for both culinary and healing purposes in Southeast Asia, was estimated between 500 million and billion dollars a decade ago. In the United States, where finning is prohibited, buyers are ready to pay up to $ 20,000 for a whale shark's fin. About 100 million sharks are killed every year. Deprived while still alive of their fins, they are returned to the sea, where they die at the bottom for suffocation, or torn to pieces by other predators.

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