Bats in market - Tentena, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia

As the pandemic rages on, risks remain - wildlife trade must be stopped urgently, warn experts to G20 leaders

Press release

The multibillion-dollar global wildlife trade and the subsequent exploitation of wild animals put our health, economy and biodiversity at risk, says World Animal Protection.

The multibillion-dollar global wildlife trade and the subsequent exploitation of wild animals put our health, economy and biodiversity at risk, says World Animal Protection. This revelation comes as the world is still in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, believed to have resulted from the wildlife trade.

The cruel trade in wild animals sees animals removed from their natural environments or commercially “farmed”, exposing them to stress and suffering creating a hotbed for disease. Most recently, over 200 cases of coronavirus have been linked to sick mink on fur farms in Denmark, according to data released by the country’s public health agency[1]. Alarmingly, the threat from mink farms is spreading in Spain, Poland, France, Greece, Sweden, Italy, Netherlands and the United States[2].

Wild animals are often traded for “exotic” pets, fashion, entertainment, luxury food and traditional medicine. The wildlife trade is now so substantial that it represents one of the most prominent drivers of animal extinction risk globally.

All G20 countries are complicit in perpetuating the cruel and unnecessary commercial trade in wild animals and their derivatives. Some of the worrying issues in G20 countries:


 A selection of legislative areas of weakness relating to wildlife exploitation for each of the G20 countries


Fails to protect endangered species or prevent the breeding of dangerous animals; the country also fails to prevent the breeding of any wild animal for cruel purposes such as for the exotic pet trade or canned hunting.[3]


Despite National Codes of Practice for the humane shooting of kangaroos and wallabies, hundreds of thousands of adults and joeys are killed inhumanely every year.[4]


While the use of marine mammals for entertainment is prohibited in Brazil, just 10 states have banned the use of wild animals in circuses.


In 2019, the vast majority of wild animals imported into Canada were destined for the exotic pet industry which is inadequately regulated by a patchwork of municipal, provincial and federal laws.


In response to COVID-19, China prohibited the breeding of wildlife for consumption, however other uses, such as for traditional medicine are still permitted.[5]

European Union

The EU are some of the biggest importers of ball pythons for use as exotic pets.[6]


In France, it is permitted to hunt 64 species of bird, of which 20 are listed on the IUCN Red List as endangered.[7]


Outside of specially protected species, just four species are prohibited from being kept by private individuals – American beaver, common snapping turtle, alligator snapping turtle and the eastern grey squirrel.[8]


In India pangolins are cruelly hunted and burned alive for their scales to supply the traditional medicine industry[9]


Indonesia allows the use of wild species (outside of protected animals) for breeding, hunting, marketing, exhibition, species exchange and hobbies.[10]


In Italy, there is no licencing system for exotic pets nor any housing requirements for their care in private homes.[11]


Japan only requires permits for certain protected species and have no legislation regarding the ownership of “exotic” pets.[12]


In Mexico, marine mammals, primates and sea turtles are not permitted to be used commercially. However, most wildlife laws are delegated to states resulting in an uncoordinated approach to regulations, protections and bans on their use.[13]


In Russia, animals used for fur farming are explicitly excluded from any provisions for animal welfare.[14]

Saudi Arabia

While authorities state it is illegal to import any exotic animal for the purpose of pet-keeping, reports and social media show the practice is widespread, including of endangered species such as cheetahs.[15][16]

South Africa

In South Africa, thousands of African lions are bred on farms for commercial purposes, such as tourism, trophy hunting, and traditional medicine. Lions on farms often have direct contact with people, such as farm workers and tourists.[17]

South Korea

Fur farming is inherently cruel from the condition animals are kept in, to the way they are killed. Countries such a Korea which don't have fur farms are still supporting the fur industry because they allow it to be imported and sold in their country.


Turkey explicitly allows animals to be taken from the wild to live in zoos.[18]

United Kingdom

Between 2014-18, over 3.4 million non-CITES listed wild animals were imported into the UK for commercial purposes such as the exotic pet trade. Imported wild animals originated from 90 countries around the world including known disease hotspots.[19]

United States

As of 2016, just 18 states have enacted full bans on the private ownership of exotic animals – non-domesticated cats, wolves, bears, reptiles and non-human primates.[20]

The threat of zoonotic diseases is very real. Wild animals to small reptiles, insects and bats are exploited legally and illegally in the wildlife trade - and many major disease outbreaks can be linked to human-animal contact, including Ebola and HIV.

The illegal trade is worth billions, and the legal trade is estimated to be much more. Governments and those involved in the wildlife trade are currently placing short-term profit over the health and welfare of animals, people, the environment and the wider economy.

Kelly Dent, Director of External Engagement, World Animal Protection said:

"G20 leaders have an opportunity to end the global wildlife trade. Forever.

"COVID-19 is the single worst pandemic that we have faced in our lifetime this century, and it is the result of cruelly exploiting wildlife. We need to focus on tackling the root cause, resetting the balance between people and animals and ending the commercial trade in wildlife –it’s an opportunity that cannot be squandered.

"The fate of animals, people, and our global economy rests in the hands of the G20 who are presented with a momentous opportunity – to end the global wildlife trade, forever.

"Although economics should not be the only reason for a global wildlife trade ban, the cost is huge when contrasted with the short-term profits made from the trade. The global wildlife trade poses a significant ongoing risk, likely to cause future pandemics, which will have negative repercussions on the global economy, human health and animal welfare."

World Animal Protection is calling for the G20 to make a collective commitment to end the inter-country trade in wild animals and wild animal products, and to ask for global institutions and bodies to put in place mechanisms to develop, facilitate and implement this ban. 

Over a million people have signed World Animal Protection’s petition to call on the G20 to end the global wildlife trade, forever. Join World Animal Protection to ask the G20 to lead the way on a global ban on the commercial wildlife trade. Sign the petition here.


Notes to editors

  • For an interview with a spokesperson contact: Kirsty Warren, Global Media Manager on +44 (0) 7809 269 747 or
  • World Animal Protection has ranked 50 countries around the globe according to their legislation and policy commitments to protecting animals. Explore the findings to discover how your government can help improve the lives of animals in your country.
  • For more information on World Animal Protection, visit:

[4] Graeme McEwan, Animal Law Principles and Frontiers (2011 published at, page 131

Over one million people and experts support the ban on the global commercial wildlife trade.