Opinion/Comment, Politics

Conservation’s ‘Trump card’, or its wild Joker?

For many years wildlife conservationists, and animal rights and welfare activists have been campaigning against China and southeast Asia’s live animal wet markets and wildlife consumption. 

By Richard Peirce*

The probable vectors, or transmission agents which enabled the 2002/3 SARS virus to reach humans was bats to civet cats to humans.  At this time wildlife conservationists and animal campaigners were delighted when the Chinese government reacted by closing wet markets, and banning wildlife consumption. 

Author, film maker and conservationist Richard Peirce

Sadly the ban and closures did not last, and soon it was back to business as usual.

In late 2019 in Wuhan in Hubei Province in China a new corona virus was transmitted to humans by a similar route, but this time it was probably bats to pangolins to humans, rather than via civet cats.  Within a short period this new viral infection was being talked about as a possible global pandemic, and a few weeks later on March 12th the World Health Organisation declared that it had actually become a global pandemic.

There could be many positive outcomes from this global disaster if we humans choose to press some re-set buttons.

But if we do not stop trading, killing, and consuming wildlife, then most scientists agree more viruses will jump from wild animals to humans, and they could be much deadlier than the corona virus the world is now fighting.

The current virus has triggered a new level of global awareness regarding wildlife trade and consumption, and the Chinese government is working on new laws which we all hope will result in an effective permanent ban.  There has never been a moment in modern times which presented a better opportunity to consign wildlife consumption to history.  If a sensible and statesmanlike President of the United States worked with China and encouraged it, a permanent effective new ban would be a certainty. 

Instead what should be the world’s ‘trump card’ is a Joker.

President Trump’s Twitter post of last Wednesday 20 May 2020

If President Trump continues to escalate his blame game and war of words with China, there will be many losers, and among them could be the world’s wildlife and future human health. 

Yes the virus surfaced in China, yes China could and should have handled the outbreak differently from the start, and yes in seeking to control the narrative, and win the war of words, China’s game is as counter-productive as is that the United States is currently playing.

How likely is China to put in place a complete and effective wildlife ban and close wet markets if the war of words goes on?  If putting a meaningful ban in place might be interpreted as bowing to U.S. pressure or admitting guilt, then I believe it is less likely to happen.

Wet markets are common throughout Asia – not just China. Photo: CNN

China is the world’s largest consumer of wildlife products by a country mile, and new wildlife laws backed by serious commitment from the Beijing government would be a trans-formative development for the world’s wildlife, and for human health.

By and large Trump’s handling of the outbreak in the United States has been disastrous and he desperately needs a scapegoat to  get him off the hook, and help him win re-election.  “Get tough with China” looks like being a major part of his strategy.  Sadly the louder the volume in the war of words, and the nastier the blame game, the less the likelihood of the wildlife ban the whole world desperately needs.

After this pandemic has ended and after China, hopefully, passes its new wildlife laws there will be plenty of time to determine culpability.  Right now we should be looking to turn negatives into positives, which is why we need the President of the U.S. to be a trump card not a joker.  The current pandemic has shown the world that the future existence of humans on the planet could depend on changing our ways.  There have not been many times in history when the world had more need of a leader with vision, charisma, fairness, compassion and wisdom than now.

Instead we have got a blond American buffoon, and a deadly expansionist. A knave and a joker! 

Coronavirus: What are President Trump's charges against the WHO ...
President Trump’s Twitter post of January 24 2020.


Editors note: This piece was specially commissioned by Coffs Coast Outlook after the editor had a discussion recently with Richard via WhatsApp.

Richard Peirce has had a lifelong passion for wildlife, and sharks in particular have fascinated him all his life. He has been fortunate enough to encounter nature’s most iconic animals all over the world.

Richard is a committed wildlife conservationist who now spends all of his time on various projects either trying to contribute to the conservation of specific species, or improve the effectiveness of global wildlife conservation. Richard and his wife Jacqui live for half of the year in Africa and the other half in Cornwall, UK.

More details about Richard’s books, films and other activities can be found here; http://www.peirceshark.com./


  1. Excellent and well done. A great article which I hope is read by many. Richard, Jacqui and their daughters have been almost life-long good friends having first befriending them in the Middle East during the early 70’s (Yes, we’re old but good farts).
    You would not find anyone on this planet more committed to conservation than Richard. It’s his deep passion and the earlier research work he’s done on Sharks is especially amazing. For those of us who’ve had the honour of working with and for Richard, an indelible impression is made.
    As a non-stop author of books there are a number to choose from.
    Thank you Editor for putting up this timely resonating feature.

  2. Max Brinsmead

    To be effective, any measures to reduce the risk of another pandemic arising from Chinese wet markets needs to be framed in terms of the risk to human health and the world economy. Campaigns by animal conservationists are seen as inherently biassed. That is why the investigation must be led by WHO despite the risks of politicization.

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