Environmentalist Investigates Chatuchak Market Selling “High Risk” Wild Animals Despite Coronavirus Pandemic

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Concerns over wildlife markets in Bangkok 

chatuchak wildlife market investigations
Image credit: Nine, TravelBlog

Chatuchak Weekend Market is constantly bustling with tourists and locals, selling everything from cheap clothes to household items. Right in the centre also sits an animal and wildlife section, which is no stranger to controversy.

Vendors are known to sell exotic animals from tortoises and hedgehogs to bearded dragons.

chatuchak market animals
The pet section at Chatuchak Market
Image credit: Chatuchak.org

American environmentalist Steven Galster and a journalist from 60 Minutes Australia, Liam Bartlett, visited Chatuchak Market to investigate its notorious wildlife section, sharing their concerns over it posing a huge risk amid the current COVID-19 outbreak worldwide.

Coronavirus outbreak started in Wuhan animal market

Mr. Galster, who runs a wildlife conservation NGO in Bangkok, said that Chatuchak’s wildlife market was a “sleeping time bomb” of the next coronavirus outbreak waiting to happen.

huanan seafood market
Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China
Image credit: China Daily, CCTV

2019’s Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has reports tracing ground zero to being Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China. Besides seafood as its name suggests, the media also claims that the market used to sell other animals such as beavers, bats, and endangered pangolins before it was shut down.

When SARS broke out in 2003, it was found that bats had been hosts to the disease, which was then passed to civets before being transmitted to humans in wet markets. Though no clear source has been confirmed for COVID-19, health experts believe that the virus could have similarly been harboured in bats before being passed on to pangolins.

China has since closed over 20,000 wet markets and banned its wildlife trade in efforts to contain the virus.

Other countries urged to take action

During their undercover investigations at Chatuchak, Mr. Galster and Mr. Bartlett emphasised the importance of shutting down these markets to avoid COVID-19 from spreading as well as future pandemics.

steven galster
Steven Galster on 60 Minutes
Image credit: Nine

“We need to not just shut down the markets in China, you need to shut them down in other places too,” Mr. Galster said.

Time Magazine shared how animal markets across Asia continue to operate under flimsy regulations. Pongsakorn Kwanmuang, spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), said that Chatuchak’s wildlife section operates in “a legal grey zone”. He mentioned that the BMA had no authority over the market beyond “those prescribed by the related local laws and regulations, which do not include the monitoring and policing the sale of exotic wildlife.”

However, it was shared that the market is regularly patrolled, cleaned, and disinfected.

animals at chatuchak
Animals sold at Chatuchak Market
Image credit: 60 Minutes

Pet markets are also seen as a hotbed for viruses due to its often cramped environments which can affect the immunity of animals, making it easier for diseases and viruses to mix and spread between species.

Wildlife trafficking poses great risk

Beyond hurting animals and the eco-system, wildlife trafficking is also a gateway into a world of health risks such as pandemics like COVID-19 and SARS.

As of 11th March 2020, there have been 119,411 coronavirus cases worldwide and counting, with 59 infections and 1 death reported in Thailand.

Experts also shared that it is unlikely the COVID-19 outbreak will subside anytime soon, but stay till end 2020 as more people around the world get infected.

Keep up with the COVID-19 situation in Thailand here:

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