Ricky Gervais and Judi Dench are among the stars who have signed an open letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to help end the exotic pet trade.
The letter, sent on behalf of World Animal Protection and the Campaign to End Wildlife Trade (CEWT), has also been signed by Sue Perkins, Evanna Lynch, Alesha Dixon, Alison Steadman, Liz Bonnin, Simon Reeve, Leona Lewis, Paul O’Grady and Michaela Strachan
The CEWT, which includes 24 leading animal protection and wildlife conservation groups, says animals are being taken from the wild or farmed in cruel conditions to meet the consumer demand for exotic pets, traditional Chinese medicine and tourism, and this demand is a primary cause of the emergence and spread of diseases including Covid-19.
The UK currently imports thousands of protected wild animals, including tortoises, pythons and monitor lizards, captured from the wild and legally imported into the UK each year, according to the group.
The letter has also been signed by 24 NGOs including World Animal Protection, Compassion in World Farming, Four Paws UK and Cruelty Free International.
It says: “The demand for wild animals and wild animal products is a primary cause of the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases and a severe risk to world health. Covid-19, like other zoonotic infectious diseases including SARS, Ebola and MERS, is believed to have passed from wildlife to humans.
“With your global leadership, we must ensure a zoonotic pandemic like this never occurs again. Therefore, we are calling on you to lead the G20 to end the international trade in wild animals and wild animal products, asking global institutions and bodies to put in place mechanisms to develop, facilitate and implement this ban.”
Reeve said: “This global pandemic has had a devastating impact on all our lives and tackling the source of the problem must be a priority.
“Ending the exploitation of wildlife for use in the exotic pet, traditional medicine and entertainment industries will take us one huge step closer to safeguarding our health and the future of the natural world.”
Sonul Badiani-Hamment, from World Animal Protection, said: “To build back stronger we need to tackle the causes of the virus, avoid the inaction following previous epidemics and work together with countries around the world to end the wildlife trade and help prevent future zoonotic outbreaks.
“Covid-19 will be at the top of the agenda at the G20 meeting of global leaders in November and we urge the PM to back a global wildlife trade ban to protect billions of animals, our health and the global environment.”