CORONAVIRUS BALL PYTHONS PANGOLINS
The World Animal Protection, an animal welfare agency, is pushing for a permanent ban on all wildlife trade as the only long-term solution to prevent major epidemics from happening again.
The agency wants governments, institutions and individuals to curb the use of wildlife animals for entertainment, food, medicine or to be kept as exotic pets.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, believed to have originated from wildlife markets in Wuhan, China, has so far claimed more than 16,000 people globally and left over 380,000 ill.
Scientists suspect that the virus has its origins in snakes, bats and pangolins, the latter of which is an endangered wildlife species.
The global animal protection agency, in a statement on Monday, drew attention to another wildlife animal said to be under threat - the Ball python.
"They are one of the most misunderstood creatures on the planet and considered Africa's most legally traded live animal - the Ball python. The reptile is perceived to have no feelings or experience suffering, but it is the poster animal for the exotic pet trade," the agency warned.
The Ball python has the tendency to curl up into a tight ball when stressed or frightened. The false assumption that the reptile requires little care is another reason they end up as exotic pets.
World Animal Protection warned that international trade of the reptile is "a ticking time bomb for infectious and deadly diseases".
Wild animals, poached from their natural habitat or bred in captivity, are typically placed in cramped cages under dirty conditions, creating a lethal hotbed of disease.
China banned the consumption of land-based wild animals due to COVID 19 and several countries, mostly in Asia, have since followed suit.
While this is a great first step, other wild animals used for non-edible purposes, such as exotic pets and traditional medicine are so far not included, according to Edith Kabesiime, the campaigns manager at World Animal Protection-Africa.
"With the recent coronavirus outbreak, we are starting to realize that the economic and human costs of an outbreak due to demand for an exotic animal, are not a price worth paying," she said.
Kabesiime revealed that the trade of Ball pythons as exotic pets is a massive global market that has impacted and depleted millions of animals in Africa over the last several decades.
Up to 99% of all Ball python global imports originate from just three West African countries: Togo, Benin and Ghana, she said, citing a recent report.
In West Africa, Ball pythons are physically dug out from burrows, stuffed into sacks (often filled with other snakes), which can result in distress, injury, sickness and death.
Exotic pets are thought to be in homes around the world, with reptiles amounting to 51% of the almost 9 million exotic pets in US homes alone.
According to Kabesiime, pet stores and e-commerce sites are also increasing both the consumer demand, and market availability of exotic pets like Ball pythons.
Online activity is helping to drive the demand and the cruel trade.