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Asia Insight

COVID casts Asia's exotic pet trade in harsher light

From Thailand to Japan, health risks add to animal welfare and biodiversity concerns

SANDY ONG, Contributing writer | Singapore

SINGAPORE -- When Thai officials stopped a man trying to enter the country from neighboring Myanmar in late September, they found a surprise inside his luggage. Stuffed into eight suitcases were about 9,100 turtles and tortoises -- some worth hundreds of dollars apiece on the black market -- bound for pet merchants in Thailand.

The seizure, reported by Thailand's public broadcaster, was another reminder that the wildlife trade is very much alive despite COVID-19. While the pandemic has drawn attention to the risks of a global business worth an estimated $300 billion, and illicit trade worth as much as $23 billion, much of this has focused on shuttering wet markets and reducing consumption. However, experts say we ignore other aspects at our own peril, not to mention that of the environment.

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