The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has echoed the view of some experts that the spread of the new coronavirus disease known as Corona Virus Disease-19 (COVID-19) should serve as a wake-up call on the need to stop illegal wildlife trade.

“The ongoing COVID-19 global outbreak should serve as a stark reminder of the dire consequence for humans of the illegal wildlife trade, which has been pushing endangered and vulnerable wildlife species toward extinction,” DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said.

The environment chief issued the statement as the DENR recently led the local celebration of the World Wildlife Day (WWD) with a renewed call to end illegal wildlife crime amid the spread of COVID-19, which is believed to have come from wild animals sold at a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The first cases of infection were traced to the Wuhan market that was reportedly selling meat from a wide range of exotic wild animals, including snakes, bats and pangolins. Since the outbreak, the Chinese government has banned the trade of wildlife, suspecting that exotic animals infected humans.

Just recently, Chinese researchers claimed they had found a coronavirus in smuggled pangolins that has a 99 percent genetic match to the virus circulating in people.

DENR Undersecretary Ernesto D. Adobo, Jr. expressed hope that the findings pointing to pangolin as “potential” intermediate host for COVID-19 virus would sound the death knell for the commercial trade of the insect-eating mammal and all other wild animals.

“Such findings are very important, and the public must be aware of these,” Adobo said. “We should stop patronizing and buying wildlife species.”

Pangolins, also called scaly anteaters because of their preferred diet, are the most trafficked mammal in the world prized for their meat and scales. There is a total of eight species of pangolins in the world, and four of them are found in Asia—Chinese, Sunda, Indian and the country’s very own Philippine pangolins (Manis culionensis), which are endemic in Palawan province.

All these pangolin species are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN as critically endangered.

Adobo, who represented Cimatu during the WWD event held in Quezon City, also dismissed the notion that wildlife crime is “not a serious crime,” and stressed that it is deserving of the same level of attention and gravity as other forms of transnational organized crime.

“Some say wildlife crime is a victimless and second-class crime and offense, but they are wrong,” Adobo pointed out.

“There are victims here because we are depriving the ecosystem if we take these wildlife species away, and we humans will soon be victims if we don’t stop the proliferation of illegal wildlife trade,” he added.

WWD is celebrated every March 3 to mark the day the landmark Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was adopted in 1973. This year’s theme is “Sustaining all life on earth.”

The annual celebration, which started in 2014 following the declaration by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 20, 2013, aims to raise awareness on endangered animal and plant species, and ways to fight wildlife crime.

The Philippines joins the global celebration as part of its commitment to the CITES, an international agreement to regulate worldwide commercial trade in animal and plant species. #