Video report by ITV News Correspondent Lucy Watson
Oluwo Fish Market teems with life. It is a wet market just outside Lagos, Nigeria's largest city.
ITV News secretly filmed there - a place awash with animals - alive and dead. Scientists believe wet markets are a breeding ground for disease, a high risk environment, from where the next pandemic could emerge.
The very concept of a “wet market” means the presence of blood and bodily fluids.
It is a marketplace selling fresh meat and fish, as opposed to a “dry market” that sells durable products.
Not all wet markets sell live animals. Not all of them trade in wild and exotic animals, but some do, and some of those have been linked to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, where an infection crosses the species barrier from animal to human. Exhibit A. Covid-19. The pandemic that allegedly originated at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China.
Video obtained by both ITV News and the charity WildAtLife shows live crocodiles having their scales removed, pangolins being kicked and abused and dogs boiled alive.
Multiple primates were seen imprisoned in cages, the heads of others were for sale. It was difficult to watch when a baby baboon, trapped inside a birdcage, reached out to the camera grasping for freedom, as a decapitated monkey was sold next to him.
One woman reached into a brown sack and pulled out a pangolin. This species is the most trafficked animal in the world. We could buy it there for less than ten pounds.
The pangolin is a species that has been linked to the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Their scales are of high value in Asia for medicines.
The abuse of animals and the health risks for humans at this market were plain to see. It’s what the conservation group WildAtLife want to expose. Chinedu Mogbu works for them, and has rescued umpteen exotic species from there in recent months.
He said: "Nigeria doesn't have strong laws to protect its wildlife.
"Anyone can go into the forest, take a pangolin and sell it on the street. The law enforcers are not even aware of the importance or the laws that protect these animals."
We did notice the presence of Asian buyers at this African market.
Any illicit, international trade would undoubtedly increase the risk of spreading disease around the globe, but Nigerian officials say they are doing enough to prevent that.
Joseph Attah from the Customs Service refused to answer more than one question on the matter though.
This was all he would say: "We have been making a lot of seizures about that, we have been seizing them and we will continue to seize them anytime we see them."
We know, that despite our allegations, the wet market in Epe continues to thrive. Scientists are concerned that such places pose an unnecessary and high risk.
"Every single animal at a wet market is likely to have an infection," Malcolm Bennett from the University of Nottingham told me. He is Professor of Zoonotic and Emerging Diseases.
“That general concept of bringing lots of animals and people together, and doing lots of things to them in the same place is a high risk thing to do. It’s not just a biodiversity of animals, it’s a biodiversity of disease. Some of which will spread to us.“
He said unflinchingly, “It is going to happen again."
There is a high security lab at the university where they are analysing the affects of COVID-19 on cells.
Bringing together animals and people that don’t usually mix increases the risk of new infections, so wet markets are ideal places for cross species transmission and disease amplification.
Other viruses we know of that started out as zoonotic diseases are SARS, MERS, Ebola, even HIV.
Stopping the development of such viruses is impossible, instead we need to mitigate the risks.
In many peoples’ eyes what happens at some wet markets is unhygienic, tortuous and brutal, but in African and Asian nations it isn’t simply a case of shutting them down. There are more issues at play. They have a critical role in social interaction and for different cultures. The Deputy Director of the National Zoo, Aminu Muhammad Beli, explained.
"We cannot close the wet markets because there are certain animals that have cultural attributes to certain tribal groups. We have to devise a way of sustaining the industry," he said.
His words are perhaps difficult to stomach when you see carcasses lying in the hot sun and live animals being butchered. Regulation and surveillance must increase though, else harmful pathogens will breed.
We just can't predict where or how destructive they will be.