As the ongoing coronavirus crisis continues to grow, the United Nations’ biodiversity chief, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, has called for a global ban on wildlife markets, including the one in Wuhan, China, in order to prevent future pandemics.

Mrema, a national of the United Republic of Tanzania, was appointed Acting Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with effect on December 1, 2019.

She believes wildlife markets are the starting point of the coronavirus outbreak.

She said nations should ban “wet markets” that supply live and dead animals for human consumption to prevent future pandemics. However, she cautioned against unintended consequences.

China has already issued a temporary ban on wildlife markets where animals are kept alive in cages for sale in filthy conditions, increasing their risk of catching diseases that can then transfer into humans.

Referring to examples of the Nipah virus in east Asia and Ebola in the DRC, Mrema explained that the destruction of nature is clearly linked to new human illnesses.

She told the Guardian, “The message we are getting is if we don’t take care of nature, it will take care of us.”

“It would be good to ban the live animal markets as China has done and some countries,” Mrema added. “But we should also remember you have communities, particularly from low-income rural areas, particularly in Africa, which are dependent on wild animals to sustain the livelihoods of millions of people.”

“So unless we get alternatives for these communities, there might be a danger of opening up illegal trade in wild animals which currently is already leading us to the brink of extinction for some species,” she continued. “We need to look at how we balance that and really close the hole of illegal trade in the future.”

Jinfeng Zhou, Secretary-General of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, called on officials to permanently impose the ban on wildlife markets.  He warned that diseases such as COVID-19, the infection caused by the novel coronavirus, would appear again.

“I agree there should be a global ban on wet markets, which will help a lot on wildlife conservation and protection of ourselves from improper contacts with wildlife,” Zhou said. “More than 70% of human diseases are from wildlife and many species are endangered by eating them.”

Mrema is optimistic that the countries would take such consequences caused by the destruction of nature more seriously in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Preserving intact ecosystems and biodiversity will help us reduce the prevalence of some of these diseases,” she said. “So the way we farm, the way we use the soils, the way we protect coastal ecosystems and the way we treat our forests will either wreck the future or help us live longer.”

“Biodiversity loss is becoming a big driver in the emergence of some of these viruses,” Mrema continued. “Large-scale deforestation, habitat degradation, and fragmentation, agriculture intensification, our food system, trade-in species and plants, anthropogenic climate change – all these are drivers of biodiversity loss and also drivers of new diseases. Two thirds of emerging infections and diseases now come from wildlife.”