When COVID-19 emerged in early 2020 in Southeast Asia, its governments took rapid containment actions: lockdowns, travel restrictions, and trade suspensions, alerting the public about the virus.

The pandemic has also put illegal or unsustainable wildlife trade under the spotlight due to enhanced restrictions on movement and increasing awareness about the public health risks associated with wildlife consumption. The long-term impacts, though, remain to be seen.

Recent reports on wildlife trafficking in Southeast Asia suggest that, compared to 2019, on-the-ground activity has decreased due to pandemic restrictions and weakened demand for wildlife products. However, advertisements and trade continue to proliferate on social media platforms, and there is evidence that traders may be resorting to stockpiling animal parts in anticipation of demand recovering as restrictions are eased.

Data from the fourth edition of the Counter Wildlife Trafficking Digest of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), released May 21 this year, indicate that seizures of pangolin parts in China, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand dropped significantly in 2020, with 48 incidents in 2020 compared to 82 in 2019. The total volume of seizures also fell sharply to 9,765 kilograms (10.8 tons) of pangolin products from 2019’s 155,795 kg (171.7 tons).

The report also found decreases in both the number and volume of seizures of tiger parts and elephant products. A total of 121 reported ivory seizures was recorded for 2020, down by 36 per cent from 380 in 2019.

Recent data from the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) reveal a similar trend. Body parts and live specimens accounting for 58 individual animals were recovered from a total of 12 seizures in 2020. That’s the lowest number of seizures recorded by the environmental department in the past decade, down by half from 24 in 2019.

But it’s possible the pandemic did little to dissuade traffickers, despite evidence that fewer traffickers are being caught on the ground, says Serene Chng, programme officer of the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

“It is not clear what impact the pandemic has on wildlife trade,” Chng says. “We are still studying this, but our early assessment shows wildlife trafficking has continued despite restrictions in movements within and between countries in Southeast Asia during pandemic lockdowns.”

Read the full article about wildlife trafficking online by Imelda Abano and Leilani Chavez at Eco-Business.