WCS developed its Field Veterinary Program—the first and largest of its kind—in 1989 in response to the growing recognition of the critical role of wildlife health in both conservation and development. The program later expanded to become the innovative WCS Health Program, working around the world on a range of threats facing wildlife, livelihoods, and human health. The program is led by Executive Director Dr. Christian Walzer.
Protect Wildlife. Protect Us.
The commercial wildlife trade for human consumption is leaving us exposed to the threat of deadly, zoonotic pandemics. Together, we can project a better future. Learn more about our efforts and take action with us.
COMMENTARY: Want to prevent pandemics? Stop spillovers
There has been little concrete action taken to mitigate pandemic risk, says a new essay in Nature co-authored by WCS. The landscape is ripe for action with the World Health Organization now negotiating a global pandemic agreement and more.
STATEMENT: Biodiversity meetings end in Geneva without consensus
"Biodiversity is in crisis, ecosystems are collapsing, and without further action we could experience another pandemic of zoonotic origin," said WCS's Dr. Susan Lieberman, Vice President, International Policy, "and we call on all governments to exercise more political will, leave narrow interests at home, and come together between now and Kunming to adopt a strong, ambitious, meaningful GBF—for the sake of our planet, and all of humanity."
COMMENTARY: How to stop wildlife trafficking in its tracks
March 14, 2022
Commercial markets in live wildlife—whether the trade itself is legal or illegal—present serious risks of pathogen spillover and epidemics and pandemics of zoonotic origin, write Maud Lelièvre and WCS's Susan Lieberman for The Revelator.
If we are to stop the trade, the rich countries that fuel demand for wildlife products must step up to fulfill their enforcement responsibilities and support developing countries and vulnerable communities.
Side event at Convention on Biological Diversity meetings
March 9, 2022
Study confirms SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses in trade-confiscated pangolins in Viet Nam
The findings are further evidence that the transnational nature of the wildlife trade can facilitate coronavirus and other viral transmission and amplification along the trade chain.
"Eliminating the trade in pangolins and other wild mammals and birds will eliminate this high-risk pathway for viral spillover and pathogen emergence,” said lead author Nguyen Thi Thanh Nga of WCS’s Viet Nam Program.
WATCH: COVID-19 One Health Briefing/Panel Discussion
February 3, 2022
VOX: There’s a COVID-19 epidemic in deer in the U.S.
The virus doesn't appear to make them very sick. Spread in new hosts could lead to new variants that cause trouble for people and wildlife later on, though. "We need wildlife surveillance,” says WCS's Sarah Olson.
STUDY: Traditional food production sharing practices help rural Pacific Island communities weather COVID-19 impacts
The findings support the need for policies in the Pacific Islands that bolster sustainable local food production and practices, including through ecosystem management and protection, to better position rural Pacific communities in the face of unprecedented change globally.
THE ADVOCATE: Pandemic brings biologist home to Louisiana, where he makes new scientific discoveries
“I used to always tell my students that a good biologist is like a good cop,” WCS's Steven Platt said. “We’re always on the job and you never know when you’re going to see something noteworthy or interesting that nobody else has paid attention to.”
STATEMENT: On the World Health Assembly’s agreement to launch a global accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response
Pandemic preparedness is critical; governments must also agree to significantly reduce the risk of pathogen spillover from animals to humans well before they become local outbreaks, epidemics, or global pandemics.
A new international pandemic treaty must include prevention at the source
Next week, the World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization’s decision-making body, will discuss a potential international pandemic treaty. Pandemic preparedness is critical, write WCS's Susan Lieberman, Christian Walzer, and Arnaud Goessens at Medium, but governments must also ensure that this agreement addresses prevention at source.
Scientists find SARS CoV-2-related coronaviruses in Cambodian bats from 2010
The discovery, along with the recent detection of the closest ancestors of SARS-CoV-2 known to date in cave-dwelling bats in Laos, indicates that SARS-CoV-2-related viruses that cause COVID-19 have a much wider geographic distribution than previously reported. It also further supports the hypothesis that the pandemic originated via spillover of a bat-borne virus.
DVM 360: Zoonotic diseases pose a threat to global health
"Today," said WCS's Christian Walzer, "a broad consensus exists that health encompasses more than parasites and pathogens; it must incorporate socioeconomic, political, evolutionary, and environmental factors while also considering individual attributes and behaviors."
MONGABAY: Our actions put people and wildlife at risk of disease
The greatest danger of new pandemics often lies in disturbed landscapes, says WCS's Chris Walzer. When humans, their livestock, and dogs take up residence in previously wild places, this unnatural interface allows people and animals to swap new infectious pathogens.
COMMENTARY: To save our planet, let’s embrace nature-positive solutions
The IUCN World Conservation Congress is one of several global meetings scheduled for the coming months that could determine the fate of our planet. As the conservation community gathers in Marseille, writes WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper for the IUCN blog, Crossroads, IUCN Members must back ambitious plans to protect existing intact ecosystems, restore degraded ones, and invest in natural infrastructure.
AFP: Global conservation congress urges wildlife protection
Loss of biodiversity, climate change, pollution, and zoonotic disease have become existential threats that cannot be "understood or addressed in isolation," the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said ahead of the upcoming World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France.
The event could help set the agenda for critical future UN summits on food systems, biodiversity, and climate change, writes AFP.
"When IUCN says 'this is our position', that's not just one more conservation group," said WCS's Susan Lieberman. "It's a position informed by almost every government and every conservation organization in the world."
Investing in wildlife health has holistic benefits
Combined with other stressors, wildlife mortality from disease can cause serious conservation challenges, and threaten food security, livelihoods, and economies. Wildlife diseases can impact production, companion animal, and human health, with the majority of animal diseases transmissible to humans originating in wildlife.
Check out the Summer 2021 newsletter from the WCS Health Program.
MONGABAY: Address risky human activities now or face new pandemics, scientists warn
A One Health approach is urgently needed to prevent future pandemics—simultaneously addressing human, animal, and ecosystem health, protecting humanity and nature, and incorporating disease risk into decision-making.
WCS and the French Agency for Development renew partnership agreement
WCS and the French Development Agency (AFD) have launched a renewed partnership agreement, committing to share expertise and efforts to fight the interlinked crises of biodiversity loss, climate change and global health.
SMITHSONIAN: The pandemic showed what can be done without parachute science
With flights grounded and borders closed, Fijian coral reef ecologist Sangeeta Mangubhai, director of WCS Fiji, suddenly wasn’t fielding constant requests for foreign collaboration. Local scientists in the Pacific islands have been taking the chance to lead.
The leaders at the G-7 Summit made several important commitments addressing the interlinked existential crises facing our planet—climate change, biodiversity loss, and zoonotic pandemics. The renewed focus on nature by these nations is an essential step for the world to successfully tackle these crises.
On health, though, one element is missing from the members' commitment. Although we appreciate the attention on preparedness and post-spillover responses, they missed the chance to make a commitment to take the critical actions needed to prevent the next spillover of zoonotic pathogens from wildlife and other animals to people.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio visits WCS's New York Aquarium—city’s latest pop-up vaccination site
The mayor was joined by Councilmember Mark Treyger, whose district includes Coney Island and the New York Aquarium, and community leaders.
Following a tour of the aquarium’s Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit, Mayor de Blasio gave remarks promoting the new vaccination site and encouraged all New Yorkers to get vaccinated.
“We are honored to partner with New York City," added WCS's John Calvelli, "to bring this vaccination site to our neighbors in Coney Island and to all New Yorkers. We agree with the Mayor that New York is rebounding from the pandemic. Our recovery will not be complete, though, until all New Yorkers are vaccinated. We are proud to be a part of the solution by hosting vaccination sites at both the New York Aquarium and the Bronx Zoo.”
WCS Madagascar has continued to support the communities around Makira Natural Park and Masoala National Park during the COVID-19 pandemic, including over 5,000 people treated at the team’s mobile clinic. They’ve also helped the gov’t to raise COVID-19 awareness and prevention.
June 2, 2021
New York Aquarium opens vaccination site in partnership with NYC to help fight COVID-19
The site will provide free COVID-19 vaccinations on weekdays, 10am to 5pm, through June 30.
“We now have vaccination sites up and running at both the Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium in partnership with the city. As part of the city’s vaccination incentive program, we will provide everyone who receives their vaccination at these sites a free ticket to come back and enjoy the zoo or aquarium another day,” said Jim Breheny, Director of the Bronx Zoo and WCS Executive Vice President of Zoos and Aquarium. “We are pleased to be able to help provide convenient vaccination options for our neighbors and the communities we serve. We are all in this together, and together we will defeat COVID-19.”
Bronx Zoo partners with New York City to help get people vaccinated
New York City’s COVID-19 vaccination site at the Bronx Zoo opened on Friday, May 21, and will run through June 30, on weekdays from 10am to 5pm. All individuals receiving a vaccine at the zoo will be given a complimentary ticket for a future visit.
"We are pleased to be a part of New York City’s efforts to safeguard all New Yorkers by providing incentives for getting a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Jim Breheny, Director of the Bronx Zoo and Executive Vice President of WCS’s Zoos and Aquarium. “We are all in this fight together to beat COVID-19. Our participation, including offering free tickets to those who get vaccinated at the Bronx Zoo, will provide a very convenient option for our neighbors and all New Yorkers to get vaccinated.”
The Global Pandemic Prevention and Biosecurity Act was introduced in Congress
"The legislation will ensure that the U.S. leads a global effort to provide an early warning system to prevent future pandemics that originate from the exploitation of wildlife and the destruction of wild places. WCS zoonotic disease surveillance experts are warning us that the next pandemic is just around the corner – unless we can build a safer future for humanity and wildlife. The Global Pandemic Prevention and Biosecurity Act will do just that and WCS is proud that our Protect Wildlife, Protect Us campaign supports this important bill.” —WCS's John Calvelli
PREVENTING PANDEMICS AT THE SOURCE: Statement in advance of the 74th World Health Assembly
Post-spillover preparedness and response efforts alone, as emphasized by the World Health Organization and its advisors in the World Health Assembly agenda, draft resolutions, and other important inputs, will not prevent future pandemics.
“To prevent the next pandemic, efforts at better preparedness and public health are laudable, but will
not be enough. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. Governments, and all of us,
must work across disciplines and take all necessary actions, including protecting and retaining intact
ecosystems, and closing down commercial wildlife markets for human consumption, particularly in birds
and mammals, and the trade that supplies those markets.” —WCS's Susan Lieberman
“The world faces four tightly interlinked existential crises—biodiversity loss, climate change, global
inequities, and the constant and growing threat of zoonotic-origin pandemics, all a result of human
actions, linked to an ongoing breakdown in our relationship with nature. We need to respond to these
crises across sectors and with a sense of urgency.” —WCS's Christian Walzer
COMMENTARY: In Mongolia, One Health for people, livestock, and wildlife
For years, Enkhtuvshin Shiilegdamba's fellow Mongolian vets called her the wildlife defender. Thanks in part to COVID-19, the WCS Mongolia director writes for PBS Nature, they’ve come to appreciate the One Health idea that we are all working to protect human health, livestock health, and wildlife health.
THIS PODCAST WILL KILL YOU: Conservation and pandemics
Why is protecting biodiversity synonymous with protecting our own health? If spillover events themselves are inevitable, how can we limit the likelihood that they will become epidemics or pandemics? WCS's Christian Walzer spoke with the podcast.
“I am hopeful that on upcoming Earth Days we will celebrate our collective efforts at building a carbon neutral and nature positive future," said WCS President and CEO Cristian Samper in a statement.
We congratulate the Biden-Harris Administration for convening the Leaders Summit on Climate over the next two days, and we are encouraged by steps taken to address climate change by governments, private companies and civil society. The leadership of the United States will be crucial to increase ambition and cooperation leading to the United Nations conferences on biodiversity and climate later this year. We call on all countries:
To recognize the interlinkage between climate, biodiversity and health, and support the use of nature-based solutions to climate and a One Health approach to help prevent future pandemics.
To commit to ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement; including reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and striving to achieve net-zero emission by 2050.
To increase financial commitments to help developing countries meet their climate and biodiversity goals.
To support the protection and conservation of at least 30% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2030, and to reduce the loss of high integrity ecosystems.
COMMENTARY: Global ambition for a 30x30 protection target, an opportunity to diversify governance and management regimes
Protected and Conserved Areas have a critically important role as we emerge from the global pandemic and seek to recalibrate humanity’s relationship with nature, writes WCS's Madhu Rao for IUCN, by securing biodiversity, reversing degradation, and restoring natural ecosystems.
"We have not co-evolved with these species," WCS's Dr. Christian Walzer tells host Bill Nye of wildlife found in markets, "so we have not had thousands of years to acquire these diseases, build antibodies against them or make them uniquely our own."
SpillOver, a new web application developed by scientists at the University of California, Davis, in consultation with WCS and others, ranks the risk of wildlife-to-human spillover for newly-discovered viruses.
"Now when we detect a new virus in a species we have an evidence-based indication of where it ranks against known zoonotic viruses and can take steps accordingly," said WCS's Sarah Olson. "This type of tool establishes a framework that will continue to improve as our knowledge of spillover risk factors grows.”
“While there remains a need for more investigation, we are not surprised about the wildlife origin referenced in the report and we know enough to act now to reduce risks of future zoonotic pandemics,” said WCS's Christian Walzer
"We must acknowledge the basic tenet that the more we destroy and intrude on nature, the more likely zoonotic spillovers will occur. Further, we cannot prevent another zoonotic pandemic if governments do not work to end both trade in live wildlife and wildlife markets for human consumption."
New paper addresses impacts of COVID-19 and Cyclone Harold on Indo-Fijians engaged in small-scale fisheries
Countries, including Fiji, need to address ethical and social justice considerations and the politics of recovery efforts by putting vulnerable and marginalized groups front and center in the aftermath of pandemics and natural disasters, the authors say.
COVID-19 PREQUELS: What we know (and don’t know) about the vast viral world
Because the health of people, animals, and the environment are deeply intertwined, writes WCS's Lauren Oakes, research efforts and problem-solving require bridges between the efforts of medical and environmental scientists.
BBC GLOBAL NEWS: Reducing the risk of future pandemics
Our survival is intertwined with the health and wellbeing of animals, says the BBC podcast Global News Podcast, including preventing future pandemics like COVID-19. Shutting down large, industrial-scale wildlife markets is imperative, says WCS's Christian Walzer.
Join experts from the security and scientific communities and policymakers for an in-depth discussion on the intersection of our national security priorities and the global loss of nature. This event is hosted by The Hill in partnership with the Natural Security Campaign.
Study evaluates the role of restaurants in the urban wild meat trade
The paper, co-authored by WCS, found they play a key part in whether protected wildlife winds up on the menu in Central African cities. Knowing which wildlife are most at risk can be helpful in focusing law enforcement efforts on compliance with species-specific rules, say the authors.
At unsustainable rates and in illegal contexts, the wild meat trade is a driver of species extinction; it can also threaten ecosystem services, local food security and contribute to the risk of zoonotic disease spread.
NEW SCIENTIST: How our abuse of nature makes pandemics like COVID-19 more likely
If we don’t act on what we have already learned, the costs to human health and wealth of pandemics such as COVID-19 will just keep on recurring. "The last 15 years has seen a real explosion in the understanding of how many potential pathogens there are," says WCS's Christian Walzer.
“The world is facing three major crises today: the loss of biodiversity, climate change, and the pandemic,” said WCS President and CEO Cristian Samper. “They are all interrelated, with many of the same causes and solutions.”
THE SCIENTIST: Assessing the impact of climate change on bats and COVID-19
"We’re altering environments in ways we don’t really understand or appreciate until we have an event like [the COVID-19 pandemic] that makes us reassess our relationship with nature,” says WCS's Sarah Olson.
Strains on critical Earth systems—water, food, forests, fisheries, and wildlife populations—are increasingly contributing to conflict, political instability, and economic harm while also heightening the risks of future pandemics. In short, a failure to ensure natural security is undermining our national security, say experts in a new landmark report from The Council on Strategic Risks.
IUCN: COVID-19, Indigenous peoples, local communities and natural resource governance
A preview of a collaborative study that reveals how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs), especially those who govern, manage and conserve their lands and waters.
Encroaching on wildlife and natural habitats has made us vulnerable to deadly pandemics such as COVID-19. “If you build a road through virgin forest from point A to point B,” WCS's Christian Walzer tells The National Wildlife Federation, “you are establishing all along the length of that road new interfaces, or edges, with wildlife habitat.”
WCS Statement Upon the Inauguration of Biden-Harris Administration
"The United States needs to reengage in advancing environmental and conservation solutions as the world faces existential crises all caused by humankind: the loss of biodiversity, climate change, and the threat of pandemic disease," said WCS President and CEO Cristian Samper. "These crises are inter-related with many of the same causes and solutions."
WCS President and CEO Cristian Samper spoke during the One Planet Summit, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.
As part of this remarks, Samper said:
The world is facing three major crises today: the loss of biodiversity, climate change and the pandemic. They are all inter-related, with many of the same causes and solutions, and we need to recognize these synergies and find win-win solutions. We know that pandemics of zoonotic origin such as COVID-19 are directly tied to wildlife trade and the increase in the human-wildlife interface caused by deforestation and forest degradation. We also know that deforestation is one of the major causes of greenhouse gas emissions, and that more than a third of the solution to climate mitigation can come from nature-based solutions. Protected and conserved areas are at the heart of the solution.
Our treatment of nature increases the risk of further pandemics
As you increase the rate of deforestation in some areas and people move in there, WCS President and CEO Cristian Samper tells International Politics and Society, you’re increasing the human-wildlife interface. The likelihood that humans are coming into contact with different kinds of animals increases dramatically.
COMMENTARY: One Health and wildlife trade(-offs) – preventing future pandemics
An integrated One Health approach, which fully acknowledges the interconnectedness and interdependence of human, animal, plant, and environmental health, as outlined in the “Berlin Principles on One Health”, adopted in 2019, is paramount in tackling some of the most pressing global health challenges, including the potential for future pandemics.
COMMENTARY: Combating emerging disease threats in the Andean Amazon
The Amazon is the world's largest tropical forest. It's home to 1/4 of the planet’s terrestrial species. Therefore, it's a major source of concern for the emergence of zoonotic diseases, writes WCS's Yovana Murillo for PBS Nature.
Mongabay: Coronavirus risk grows as animals move through wildlife trade
A team of scientists, including from WCS, tested field rats for coronavirus at different points along the wildlife supply chain in Vietnam. They found that with each link in this chain, the percentage of infected animals increased by about 1.5 times.
WATCH: Wildlife conservation and zoonotic diseases
WCS's Sofi Mardiah, Wildlife Trade Policy Program Manager for Indonesia, presented at the ASEAN webinar, "Wildlife conservation and zoonotic diseases | Halting species loss and tackling public health in the Asean."
Among her priority actions and recommendations:
Strengthening policy and institutional framework ASEAN nations need to ensure their policy frameworks and legislation prohibit the highest risk parts of the wildlife trade where zoonotic pathogens can emerge. Our research has shown that is the commercial trade in wildlife (particularly birds and mammals) for human consumption.
Strengthen pandemic prevention through a multi-sectoral “One Health” approach Create a high-level multi-sectoral authority at the highest level of government, to oversee wildlife-livestock-human-environment issues of risk for zoonotic diseases; develop a national strategy as an umbrella to bridge the multi-sectoral work and translate it into priority areas and sub-national policy level.
Reduce consumer demand through BCC approach Identify zoonotic disease risk in wildlife markets and trade; raise public awareness of disease risks; implement behavior change interventions targeting key wildlife consumers.
COMMENTARY: A One-Health approach to this and future pandemics
"No particular country, group, discipline, or sector of society, write Niels Annen, Minister of State, German Federal Foreign Office, and WCS President and CEO Cristian Samper for Euractiv, "holds enough knowledge and resources to single-handedly prevent the emergence or spread of diseases while maintaining and improving the health and well-being of all species and ecosystems in today’s globalized world."
COMMENTARY: One Health is a necessary blend of biodiversity and human health goals
As we confront a pandemic originating with the zoonotic transmission of a virus from wildlife to humans that has devastated the global economy, writes WCS's Annie Mark for Mongabay, there is now an opportunity to combine these two areas.
“Banning the trade in live wildlife for human consumption is the first step to bring our planet back on the road to good health,” WCS's John Calvelli tells the Debi Nigro Show. “The proposed legislation is the prescription to do just that.”
WATCH: Strengthening the multilateral health architecture
The COVID-19 crisis is a reminder of the relationship between health and the environment. WCS's Sarah Olson spoke on zoonotic diseases, pandemics and the Berlin Principles at the launch of the "One Health" High-Level Expert Council.
November 10, 2020
TUNE IN: One Planet, One Health, One Future
COVID-19 has shown us the exorbitant cost of inaction. The world needs to urgently operationalize the concept of One Health. On November 17 and 18, WCS and the German Federal Foreign Officeare are co-hosting a two-day virtual event that builds on the Berlin Principles to identify how to move forward.
The world needs to urgently operationalize the concept of One Health
Global leaders in wildlife and human health are taking further active steps to ensure that governments, academia, and civil society break down barriers and form a united effort to prevent the emergence or resurgence of diseases, like COVID-19, that threaten people, wildlife, and livestock.
On November 17 and 18, WCS and the German Federal Foreign Office will jointly host a virtual meeting on how to operationalize One Health across the globe.
The pandemic could usher in fundamental improvements in how we treat animals and the planet, writes Rachel Nuwer for Sierra Magazine. SARS-CoV-2 has given us an opportunity to self-correct through actions like closing live-wildlife markets.
"Evidence is very strong," WCS's Joe Walston tells her, "that at our darkest hour, we're actually closest to a major inflection point that would put in place the foundations for a renaissance in nature."
Bat Week and emerging zoonotic disease threats are really about us, writes WCS's Sarah Olson. If we can shift attitudes and beliefs about bats, we can begin to have more difficult conversations about how we choose to live on this planet.
Piecemeal perspectives on preventing future zoonotic pandemics just won’t cut it
Our collective and determined actions can prevent outbreaks from becoming global pandemics, writes WCS Executive Director of Health Christian Walzer in Frontiers. But we, the global community, must strive to build back better.
The risk of coronavirus spillover increases as animals travel from traders to large markets to restaurants
In a recent study, WCS's Sarah Olson and her colleagues showed that wildlife in the trade supply chain are often under stress and confined at high densities with other animals from multiple sources which likely results in increased shedding of coronaviruses. She explained in an interview with the Asia Society (about 32 minutes into the video below).
September 1, 2020
The New York Times: How to Stop the Next Pandemic
The destruction happening at the edge of forests is one area we're concerned about, says WCS's Christian Walzer, creating contact with wildlife that didn't exist before.
How WCS Canada scientists are adapting to COVID-19
Usually, at this time of year, many of WCS Canada's scientists would be deep into their field seasons, monitoring bird migrations in Yukon, tracking the movements of ancient sturgeon in Ontario, and joining with community partners to listen to whale sounds in the western Arctic. But current circumstances have required both adopting some creative solutions and simply accepting that some field work is not going to happen this summer.
COMMENTARY: How we can use the CITES wildlife trade agreement to help prevent pandemics
The best way, write WCS's Sue Lieberman and others, is to adapt CITES to address zoonotic disease risk is through an addendum to the treaty itself: additive text covering zoonotic diseases and international trade.
What’s the environmental impact of the COVID-19 crisis in Africa?
A paper in Nature Ecology and Evolution argues “that the net environmental impact of the COVID-19 crisis in Africa will be strongly negative because the crisis creates a ‘perfect storm’ of reduced funding, lower conservation capacity, and increased threats to wildlife and ecosystems. Wildlife conservation arguably faces its most serious challenge in decades.” WCS’s Uganda Country Director Simon Nampindo is among the authors.
Densely populated urban areas have garnered most of the media attention and public health response. What has been largely ignored, writes WCS's David Wilkie, is the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples.
COMMENTARY: In Africa, wildlife raises the risk of deadly diseases. It doesn't have to.
We have seen the devastating impacts of diseases that spillover from wildlife, write WCS's Robert Mwinyihali, Jean Paul Kibambe, Richard Malonga and Gaspard Abitsi for CNN. "For urban families like ours, eating wildlife is not essential."
Has Vietnam banned the wildlife trade to curb the risk of future pandemics?
On July 23, the Vietnamese Government released Prime Minister’s Directive No. 29 on urgent solutions to manage wildlife. This has been largely reported in the global media as a widespread ban on wildlife trade in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wildlife Conservation Society welcomes the Prime Minister’s Directive and the renewed attention it will bring to combating illegal trade and consumption of wildlife. However, there are a number of points that have been mis-reported in the global media and areas we think require greater attention to reduce the risks of future zoonotic pathogen outbreaks:
1) The Directive does not ‘ban the wildlife trade’; rather it calls for heightened enforcement of existing laws on illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam.
Directive No. 29 does not introduce new restrictions on the trade and consumption of wild animals to reduce the risk of zoonotic pathogen transmission, as we have seen in China. Instead, it simply re-states the need to enforce existing legislation on wildlife protection. However, the Directive requests the courts and prosecutors to impose strict penalties on those who abuse their position and authority to commit wildlife crimes. This is the first time such corruption has been acknowledged and prioritized.
This Prime Minister and earlier ones have previously issued Directives calling for enhanced enforcement efforts on illegal wildlife trade (See Prime Minister’s Directive No. 3/CT-TTG 2014; and Prime Minister’s Directive No. 28/CT-TTG 2016). Whilst these often result in a flurry of action, this invariably fades. All these Directives have been unable to address the underlying causes of weak enforcement and ineffective prosecutions against wildlife criminals – for which additional legal reform is urgently needed. The major obstacles include corruption within the criminal justice system, and insufficient resources applied to fighting wildlife crimes in terms of budgets, manpower and technical capacity (e.g. financial investigations).
2) The Directive paves the way for future legal reform on wildlife consumption.
Directive No. 29 has not banned the consumption of wildlife; rather it has requested all relevant ministries to strictly monitor and control the acts of illegal wildlife consumption and review the current legal framework to propose amendments and supplementary regulations on the illegal consumption of wildlife. This is a positive development but requires specific time-frame, guidance, and specific government agencies to lead the process, without such it could take more than a year to finalise.
3) Measures proposed in the Directive to reduce the risk of zoonotic pathogen transmission in commercial wildlife farms are insufficient.
Directive No. 29 calls for an inspection of commercial wildlife farming across the country to ensure the legal origin of captive wildlife and safe conditions for human and captive wildlife, environmental sanitation and disease prevention. This is urgently needed as commercial wildlife farms are a high-risk interface for the transmission of zoonotic pathogens, as evidenced by viral surveillance in Vietnam over the last decade that has found multiple known and novel viruses in such farms. However, the inspection must be prioritized, time-bound, involve the relevant line agencies of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and also representatives from international organizations such as FAO and WHO.
Given the significant risks that commercial wildlife farms currently pose, and the challenges of implementing effective disease prevention and and biosecurity practices, we believe an immediate temporary ban on issuing new permits for captive-raising of wild mammals and birds for commercial purposes should be put in place during the period that inspection, risk assessment and updated policies are formulated and implemented.
4) The Directive potentially weakens the existing ban on wildlife imports.
The Prime Minister issued a temporary ban on all wild animal imports on January 28th 2020 in Directive No. 5 on Prevention and Combating COVID-19. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) issued official guidance on February 6th 2020 stipulating that parts of wild animals processed into medicines, perfumes, watches and bags would be exempt from this ban. Directive No. 29 repeats the existing ban, however, adding additional exemptions. MARD should clarify as soon as possible the precise scope of these additional exemptions.
Whilst this Directive No. 29 is a positive development, it is not the game-changer that is being reported by some in the global media and that is urgently needed to prevent future zoonotic pathogen outbreaks such as that we are experiencing today. WCS will continue our work with partners in the Vietnamese Government, local academia and civil society, in addition to FAO and WHO representatives in Vietnam, on proposals to reform legislation to prohibit the commercial trade and consumption of wild birds and mammals, and ensure that enforcement and judicial agencies are fully mandated and resourced to enforce the law and bring wildlife criminals to justice.
July 22, 2020
TUNE IN: Wildlife trade and COVID-19
What: Presentation by WCS's Aili Kang called "Wildlife Trade and Public Health—How We Can Better Manage Risks of Zoonotic Disease" When: Monday, July 27, at 10 am EST Where: Tune in via the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin website
As part of this weekly speaking series, WCS's Aili Kang will give a thorough presentation on managing the risks of zoonotic disease and the wildlife trade.
From Mesoamerica to the Congo Basin to Southeast Asia to our zoos and aquarium in New York City, WCS is assisting however it can—with the provision of food, supplies, daily stipends, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) and educational support to safeguard communities.
Esquire: This is what studying the wildlife trade has taught me about the spread of disease
We've been studying the wildlife trade for more than a decade, WCS's Christian Walzer tells the magazine, and we've just learned that as you follow a rat from the field to a market and then into a restaurant, there’s an increase in coronaviruses.
Germany's Federal Environment Ministry hosted a high-level discussion on addressing the various causes of the transmission and spread of zoonoses, including pandemics. WCS's Susan Lieberman, Vice President, International Policy, was a panelist.
WCS Country Director Sangeeta Mangubhai spoke on fisheries and COVID-19 and what Fiji's response should be post pandemic.
June 26, 2020
Congressional Quarterly: Can future pandemics be prevented?
There is clear evidence that wildlife markets have contributed to zoonotic disease epidemics such as SARS, says WCS's Susan Lieberman. “Do we spend years investigating which might be the next one?" she asks. "Or do we say we can't accept any risk of this happening again? … If we stop the commercial markets where people eat wildlife, the chances of this happening again are infinitesimal.”
What: Live panel discussion hosted by Germany's Federal Environment Ministry featuring WCS's Susan Lieberman When: Monday, June 29 from 9:30-11:30 am ET Where: Tune in live at this link—https://www.bmu.de/en/livestream/
Germany's Federal Environment Ministry is committed to working with its international partners to address the various causes of the transmission and spread of zoonoses, including pandemics. WCS's Susan Lieberman, Vice President, International Policy, joins this high-level discussion to understand these better and work together to prevent these kinds of crises through internationally coordinated measures for the future.
June 24, 2020
The Independent: Risk of coronaviruses increases as wildlife moves from farms to restaurants, study finds
“It was a bit of a surprise," WCS's Sarah H. Olson tells the paper, "when I started crunching the data and saw just how significant the amplification process was.”
ABC News (Australia): WCS's Amanda Fine on how coronavirus has placed more attention on the wildlife trade
June 22, 2020
The New York Times: Wildlife trade spreads coronaviruses as animals get to markets
A study of the wildlife trade in 3 provinces in southern Vietnam, co-authored by WCS, produced startlingly clear confirmation for one of the underlying objections to the wildlife trade in Asia—the trading offers an ideal opportunity for viruses in one animal to infect another.
Animals sampled in the wildlife-trade supply chain bound for human consumption had high proportions of coronaviruses and the proportion of positives significantly increased as animals traveled from traders to large markets to restaurants, says a new study co-authored by WCS.
Wildlife in the trade supply chain are often under stress and confined at high densities with other animals from multiple sources which likely results in increased shedding of coronaviruses. The authors forewarn of the potential risk of viral spillover into people through the wildlife trade.
To reduce risk, we recommend stopping all commercial trade in wildlife for human consumption (particularly of birds and mammals) and closing all such markets.
WATCH: Links Between Commercial Trade and Consumption of Wildlife and Disease Outbreaks
WCS's Susan Lieberman was a witness at this UK Parliamentary hearing, which also considered steps the United Kingdom can take to prevent future pandemics.
June 6, 2020
Associated Press: Coronavirus Disrupts Global Fight to Save Endangered Species
In Guatemala, Indigenous communities that monitor rainforests are struggling to contain one of the worst fire seasons in two decades, reports the AP, as government firefighting resources are devoted to the pandemic.
“Tropical forests are rich in biodiversity, so we’re losing rare flora and fauna,” said Jeremy Radachowsky, WCS director for Mesoamerica. “The situation is different in every country, but reduced enforcement of environmental laws is a common concern.”
What: Global Britain panel discussion featuring WCS's Aili Kang When: June 4, 4 pm BST (11 am EST)
The alteration and destruction of our planet poses a significant threat to human health. Today at 4 pm BST (11 am EST), WCS's Aili Kang joins a virtual panel discussion on this important subject. Register and check it out.
EDITORIAL: The impact on small-scale fisheries and coastal communities
In a new piece for the journal Coastal Management, conservationists, including from WCS, document the effects the pandemic is having on this sector around the world.
"Negative consequences to date have included
complete shut-downs of some fisheries," they write, "knock-on economic effects
from market disruptions, increased health risks for fishers, processors
and communities, additional implications for marginalized groups,
exacerbated vulnerabilities to other social and environmental stressors, and increased Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing."
COMMENTARY: CITES is not the answer to preventing another pandemic
WCS's Susan Lieberman argues the only way to truly prevent something is to eliminate the root cause. In the case of zoonotic pandemics, she writes for Scientific American, we must put an end to the commercial trade in wildlife for human consumption (with exceptions for Indigenous Peoples and local communities that are dependent on wildlife consumption for their food security or cultural expression).
WCS REPORT: Links between ecological integrity and human health
Ecological degradation not only increases the overall risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks originating from wildlife, but it also has complex effects, feedback loops, and some notable
negative impacts on many other aspects of human health.
REUTERS: China legislators take on wildlife trade, but traditional medicine likely to be exempt
As China’s parliament prepares new laws to ban the trade and consumption of wildlife, local action plans published this week suggest the country’s fur trade and lucrative traditional medicine sectors will continue as usual.
“It will be important for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) experts, wildlife conservation experts, and relevant authorities to take a look at TCM-related laws and regulations to make sure they are consistent,” said WCS's Aili Kang.
CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC: The future for wildlife post-COVID-19
“So far," said WCS Canada's Justina Ray, "there's really nothing that we can see at this point that would change the equation for the largest threat to species, which is cumulative habitat loss and degradation.”
For WCS's Jonathan Slaght spring was typically the end point of his yearly work studying Blakiston's fish owls, the world's largest owls, in Russia. "The thaw made river ice unsafe to walk or drive on," he writes in Scientific American, "and the sun’s renewed warmth softened the frozen mud of forest roads, making them impassable."
Not this year, though. This year, as COVID-19 tightened its grip on the planet, it became clear the expedition would leave him behind.
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues around the world, threats to Western lowland gorillas and other endangered species are surging: Poaching, mining, and deforestation have all ramped up in the midst of this crisis.
WCS has the largest anti-wildlife trafficking presence globally, with teams on the ground in nearly 30 countries. By making a gift today, you’ll be protecting the endangered species we can’t bear to lose, through this crisis and beyond. Donate by midnight and have your donation matched.
Christian Walzer of WCS's Health Programs and Pat Thomas of the Bronx Zoo participated in a discussion hosted by The Habitats Trust and Central Zoo Authority, India.
May 8, 2020
Call for a one health research coalition
In The Lancet, WCS's Christian Walzer and others emphasize that the health of our planet hinges on the symbiotic relationship between humans, animals and the environment. They call for an inclusive and transparent COVID-19 One Health Research Coalition to strengthen linkages with the evolving climate change and planetary health research community.
Dialogue on international cooperation to prevent the next pandemic
Across 25 high-risk viral families, there
are estimated to be 1.7 million unknown
viruses, WCS's Christian Walzer reported in his presentation during the Pace University School of Law event. About 700,000 of them likely have the
potential to infect humans.
Earlier this week, WCS's Susan Lieberman, Vice President, International Policy, joined the FIU Tropical Conservation Institute discussion on wildlife trade policy, including the scope of current regulations, the human component, and the future of wildlife trade.
May 6, 2020
Ethical Corporation: Human health is dependent on protecting the health of the planet
Aili Kang, Asia program director at WCS, estimates that China’s ban will cover more than 2,000 species, and she’s optimistic that it will be permanently implemented.
TRT World: Coronavirus, a warning shot from nature?
Mankind’s encroachment on the habitats of wild animals could lead to more zoonotic pandemics. WCS's Christian Walzer joins a discussion on Turkish television.
April 28, 2020
Fires in Mesoamerica
This young Guatemalan black howler monkey has lost its home. With forest rangers sheltering due to the COVID-19 crisis, fires raged uncontrolled across Mesoamerica on Earth Day last week, including in northern Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve, which WCS has worked to conserve for more than two decades. This infant monkey was discovered there in the ashes, in the community forests of San Miguel la Palotada.
The young monkey’s mother could not be found, so the baby was sent by CONAP (Guatemala National Council of Protected Areas) to the ARCAS Wildlife Rescue Center in Peten, and will require care and some growth prior to being returned to the wild.
The fires in Mesoamerica bring into focus the intersecting crises of the pandemic, climate change, and biodiversity loss. The blazes, exacerbated by drought, have released massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere—contributing further to the climate crisis while threatening innumerable wildlife species like the young howler. What we increasingly know: the degradation of nature across the globe is driving catastrophic threats to our very survival.
Axios: Coronavirus is tied to climate and biodiversity crises
If we fail to recognize the connection, we are likely to see more difficult-to-tackle diseases jump from animals to humans, WCS's Joe Walston said in an interview. "But I believe that the world is realizing now," said Walston, "that these are environmental problems, that they are going to happen again unless we take action."
OPINION: Preventing pandemics, global warming and environmental degradation all at once
One commonality lies at the core of the current massive global challenges: the destructive relationship between humanity and the natural world, write WCS's James Watson, Lauren Oakes and Sarah Olson for CNN.
Los Angeles Review of Books: Coronavirus and conservation
According to Chris Walzer, Director of Global Health at the Wildlife Conservation Society, Amazonian creatures can be presumed to harbor just as many viruses as African and Asian animals that gave us Ebola, SARS, and COVID-19.
OPINION: China is closing its wildlife markets. Let’s make it permanent.
"The Chinese government is now leading the global community with these new regulations," WCS Regional Director Colin Poole writes for PBS Nature. "However, the real challenge lies in implementation—not today, but in years to come when a vaccine is widely available and the fear of Covid-19 is fading from memory."
COVID-19 is a disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Although COVID-positive people
can infect tigers and lions in zoos by close contact involved with caring for them, cats are not easily
infected, and SARS-CoV-2 is not known to occur in any population of any wild cat species in nature.
It is extremely unlikely that wild cats can transmit the virus that causes COVID-19 to humans
Quarantining also means caring for our great ape relatives
Gorillas and other great apes are particularly susceptible to pathogens from humans, and the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 poses a very serious risk to their survival. Protecting our closest wild relatives and closing wildlife markets for human consumption are both critical steps towards ensuring healthy futures for all, writes Elizabeth L. Bennett for IUCN.
Read Christian Walzer's full testimony from the Congressional caucus briefing
Walzer, the Executive Director of WCS's Health Programs, spoke before the bipartisan leadership of the International Conservation Caucus on wildlife trafficking, the origins of COVID-19, and preventing future pandemics.
In a single deliberate poisoning event, 3 giant ibis, equivalent to 1-2% of the global population, have been killed—part of a disturbing global trend where conservationists are noticing increases in hunting of protected species since the spread of coronavirus began to disrupt traditional economic and social systems in rural areas.
TUNE IN: Virtual briefing featuring WCS's Christian Walzer
We can prevent future pandemics by stopping all commercial trade in wildlife. Tune in tomorrow at 3 p.m. ET as WCS’s Dr. Christian Walzer speaks on this at a virtual hearing featuring the bipartisan leadership of the International Conservation Caucus. It's presented by The ICCF Group.
The New York Times: Poachers kill more rhinos as coronavirus halts tourism to Africa
“These animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by tourist presence,” said Tim Davenport, who directs species conservation programs for Africa at WCS. “If you’re a poacher, you’re not going to go to a place where there are lots of tourists, you’re going to go to a place where there are very few of them.”
The New York Times: A tiger is slightly sick with coronavirus. Your cat is probably ok.
Nadia, a Malayan tiger, is doing well, according to Dr. Paul Calle, the Bronx Zoo’s chief veterinarian. So are three other tigers and three lions that show the same symptoms. And, he said, neither Nadia’s infection nor early scientific reports from China of infections among domestic cats should make cat owners fear for their pets, or fear that the cats may pass the virus to humans.
“None of them actually ever acted terribly sick,” Dr. Calle said of the zoo’s infected cats.
BBC: Putting the spotlight on the global wildlife trade
Conservation experts say the coronavirus pandemic, which likely originated at a market selling wild animals in China, is a watershed moment for curbing the global wildlife trade, which can drive extinction and spread disease.
VIDEO: What must the world do now to prevent the next zoonotic pandemic?
WCS's Dr. Christian Walzer and Dr. Aili Kang and Dr. Russell Mittermeier of Global Wildlife Conservation spoke to reporters this morning about the crisis.
April 2, 2020
Update from WCS Congo
April 2, 2020
Voice of America: COVID-19 Infections Approach 900,000
WCS's Paul Elkan speaks about the world's most trafficked animal. "One hears about ivory being stored in containers and moved in large quantities," says Elkan. "But over the years we've found tons of pangolin scales being stockpiled and attempted to be trafficked."
What must the world do now to prevent next zoonotic pandemic?
At a tele news conference this morning, experts from WCS and Global Wildlife Conservation answered this question. You can get the highlights on our WCS Newsroom Twitter feed.
April 1, 2020
WCS's Bronx Zoo serving as staging ground
April 1, 2020
LiveScience: The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced us to a new word: zoonoses
"Spillover" events, when diseases jump from wild animal hosts to human populations, are a significant and growing threat to global health, global economies, and global security, writes WCS's Dr. Christian Walzer. Analyses of their trends suggest that their frequency and economic impact are on the rise.
Euractiv: The ‘super year for biodiversity’ undermined by a wildlife market?
Conservationists have been working for many years to try and get European Union leaders and policy-makers to pay attention and take action to tackle the biodiversity crisis, writes WCS's Janice Weatherley-Singh. This year felt as if it might be the year, but this new political action on biodiversity is now being curtailed by COVID-19.
STATEMENT: WCS issues policy on reducing risk of future zoonotic pandemics
To prevent future major viral outbreaks such as the COVID-19 outbreak, impacting human health, well-being, economies, and security on a global scale, WCS recommends stopping all commercial trade in wildlife for human consumption (particularly of birds and mammals) and closing all such markets.
U.S. News: New York City’s new normal as it weathers a pandemic
"Many of our activities of course have slowed down in the field around the globe," WCS's Dr. Christian Walzer tells the magazine. But "I've probably never had as much work as I've had now," particularly as he examines the impact of coronavirus worldwide.
Sierra: China could end the global trade in wildlife
“What China is doing is very, very encouraging, in that they’re potentially taking a lead globally on policy to prevent future outbreaks,” says Scott Roberton, director of counter-wildlife trafficking for WCS’s Asia program. “This isn’t about conservation; it’s about public health.”
Food & Environment Reporting Network: Can Asia’s Infectious Disease-Producing Wildlife Trade Be Stopped?
"It’s a numbers game,” says WCS's Dr. Christian Walzer of wild animal markets. "You’re providing a lot of opportunities for human-animal interface, with a high diversity of species with unknown viruses mixing with each other.”
"Chinese people don’t want to touch any wild animal food at the moment," adds Dr. Aili Kang, "so the traders have no market."
"Some 60% of emerging infectious diseases that are reported globally are zoonoses," report WCS's Amanda Fine and Aili Kang, "and of the more than 30 new human pathogens detected in the last three decades, 75% have originated in animals."
"The Wildlife Conservation Society is dedicated to carrying on with our important work—thanks to your steadfast support," says WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper. "Our community is strong, and we will get through this together."
Guessing we could all use a bit of zen right now. We posted a video of gentoo penguins returning to shore along the coast of South America. Post your own with #WildlifeZen and help us spread some good cheer.
March 16, 2020
Emerging Zoonoses and the Risk Posed by Wildlife Markets
"Facing such a vast, unknown and unpredictable universe of zoonotic agents," write WCS's Amanda Fine and Aili Kang on Medium, "we firmly believe that limiting the chances of contact between human and wild animals is the most effective way to reduce the risk of emergence of new zoonotic diseases."
Temporary Closure of WCS's Four Zoos and Aquarium in New York City Beginning Monday, March 16, 2020
The Wildlife Conservation Society is temporarily closing the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo and New York Aquarium, effective Monday, March 16. Our five parks will be closed and education and public programs will be cancelled until further notice.
This action is being taken as city and state leaders have called on businesses to voluntarily close to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19; and following declarations of states of emergency in the United States, New York State, and New York City.
Mongabay: Conservationists Set Record Straight on COVID-19's Wildlife Links
“It’s just a numbers game,” WCS's Dr. Christian Walzer said of markets that trade in wildlife. “If you just put enough species together and allow them to share viruses and then put a lot of people in contact with the animals and their parts, then you just invariably will have a virus that can enter a human cell and replicate and, in rarer occasions, transmit from human to human.”
STATEMENT: Viet Nam prime minister proposes a ban on trade and consumption of wildlife
“We commend Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc for his leadership in taking this important first step. We hope this directive will stipulate the required actions to remove high-risk interfaces along the wildlife trade supply chain where viruses can emerge by putting in place measures to prohibit the trade, consumption, breeding and keeping of wild animals whether wild caught or captive bred in Viet Nam.”
“We strongly support Viet Nam in taking all necessary steps to prevent future zoonotic pathogen transmissions that could lead to future outbreaks similar to COVID-19 harming livelihoods and economies around the world.”
On Twitter, we addressed some of the major wildlife-related myths out there about COVID-19.
March 2, 2020
Reminder of The Berlin Principles – A One Health approach — Issued on Oct. 22, 2019
As the world focuses on the zoonotic COVID-19 outbreak, we are bringing focus back to the Oct. 22, 2019, release of The Berlin Principles, which are an urgent call to governments, academia, and civil society that all sectors need to break down barriers to ensure a united effort to prevent the emergence or resurgence of diseases that threaten humans, wildlife, and livestock.
The Berlin Principles were developed and issued at the "One Planet, One Health, One Future" conference organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the German Federal Foreign Office. The conference included the top minds from around the globe addressing how human development and interference on nature are generating threats affecting all life on Earth.
“But there is a huge trade in wildlife that is not related to consumption.”
February 26, 2020
STATEMENT: A critical and positive step but other forms of trade should be added
“WCS welcomes this critical and positive step that reflects the Chinese central government’s commitment for not only solving the COVID-19 outbreak but in preventing future risks through legislative reform and improved enforcement and management.
“There is no such risk-free trade and consumption of any wild mammals and birds whether they are wild-caught or farmed. WCS believes that only by prohibiting the live trade in all wild birds and mammals can the risk of future viral emergences be prevented, and thus other forms of trade should also be included in this ban.
“In addition, this creates a potential loophole for traffickers who may exploit the non-food exemptions to sell or trade live wildlife, creating additional challenges to law enforcement officers.”
STATEMENT: WCS applauds China for revising and strengthening wildlife protection laws
“Preventing future zoonotic outbreaks is not about targeting one species—like pangolins, bats and snakes—but taking strong actions to ban wet markets trading in wildlife and broadly strengthening wildlife laws and regulations," said WCS's Dr. Christian Walzer. "We applaud The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China for declaring on Monday that it is revising wildlife protection laws, in order to strengthen the fight to end indiscriminate hunting and consumption of wild animals."
What is the Wildlife Conservation Society's main message concerning the COVID-19 coronavirus?
As Dr. Walzer states in the video above, WCS is asking China and others governments to close live animal markets that trade in wild animals—whether these animals come from the wild or whether they are farmed-wildlife. There are three clear steps we are advocating for to prevent the spread of similar zoonotic diseases: close live animal markets that sell wildlife; strengthen efforts to combat trafficking of wild animals within countries and across borders; and work to change dangerous wildlife consumption behaviors, especially in cities.
Won’t closing these markets hurt the poor?
No. Wildlife populations are being depleted as they are poached and hunted. Viral outbreaks lead to mass culling of domestic animals, which increases the cost of basic animal protein, hitting the poor the hardest.
Why do we suspect the COVID-19 coronavirus is a spill-over from animals to humans?
Scientists from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control have confirmed a live animal market teeming with a multitude of wildlife species as the origin of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Dr. Zhong Nanshan, director of the China State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease, who became famous for leading the fight against SARS 17 years ago, pinpointed on Chinese state television the likely source of the new coronavirus as wildlife. Environmental samples from the Wuhan market have been linked to wildlife.
Why are these live animal markets that sell animals for food such a problem?
It is hard to design more perfect conditions for new viruses to emerge than market systems such as that in Wuhan: Tightly pack together a variety of species from around the country or the world and transport them long distances directly into large markets. Ensure that these massively stressed and immuno-compromised wild animals are in close proximity to domestic and farmed animals. Then distribute these animals out to major urban populations for consumption.
What action has the Chinese government taken about these markets with this outbreak?
The Chinese government is to be applauded for acting quickly, as three government agencies took the first step, announcing a nationwide ban prohibiting all wild animal trading activities with immediate effect. This includes not only wet markets, but supermarkets restaurants and e-commerce platforms. The announcement also stated that “any violation of the provisions of this announcement shall be investigated and dealt with severely in accordance with the law and regulations”. However, this is not enough, as the ban currently only covers the period until “the epidemic situation is lifted nationwide”. It must be permanent.
Is it a common occurrence for viruses to be transmitted from animals to humans?
The resulting re-assortment and exchange of viral components between species at live animal markets is a major source of new viruses. These can be zoonotic, i.e., transmitted from animals to humans (e.g., Avian Influenza, SARS, MERS), and subsequently successfully mutate so that they can transmit between humans, creating the conditions for a rapid global pandemic.
Are there markets like this outside of China?
Similar markets occur in cities across other Asian countries and if these persist, and human consumption of wildlife goes on, then we will continue to face heightened risks from emerging new viruses, potentially more lethal.
What do the people in China and Chinese media think about closing these markets?
A large and growing number of people in China support closing these markets. On Chinese social media, support for the issue has been among the highest trending topics on Weibo (China’s most popular microblog site) over the last week, with the hashtag “#The Source of the New Coronavirus is Wild Animals” viewed 1.2 billion times. The hashtag "#National Wildlife Trading Is Banned Until the Epidemic is Over” has amassed 400 million views over 24 hours since it was announced, and the view of Chinese netizens is clear: “It should be permanently banned. Do you want to have another epidemic?,” “Reject wild meat, ban forever and punish offenders severely,” “It is for the sake of human life, health, safety, and maintenance of natural harmony that wildlife trading activities should be permanently banned from now on.”
Not only that. State media and academics agree. The China Daily recently headlined, “It’s Time to Permanently Ban Wildlife Trade” and Sina News, “It’s Time to Ban Wild Animal Trading.” While a group of senior Chinese academics, including the former president of Peking University and Dr. Shi Zhengli of Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academic of Science (who is one of the scientists who identified bats as the original carrier of SARs), have publicly called on China’s National People’s Congress to end the illegal trade and consumption of wild animals by issuing emergency legislation integrating public health and safety concerns into the wildlife protection law.
Where can I read more about the spill-over from animals to humans in connection to the COVID-19 coronavirus?
STATEMENT: Chinese ban on wildlife markets needs to be permanent
“The Chinese government’s announcement today to temporarily ban the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants and over e-commerce needs to be permanent," said WCS's Dr. Christian Walzer. "We congratulate the government for taking this important first step."
“The banning of such sales will help end the possibility of future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, such as the COVID-19 coronavirus. We learned this lesson with the outbreak of another zoonotic disease, SARS, in 2002. The pattern will keep repeating itself until we ban, not only in China, but in other countries, the sale of wildlife, specifically for food and in food markets."
The Guardian: Calls for global ban on wild animal markets
Wild animal markets must be banned worldwide, say experts in and outside China, warning that the sale of sometimes endangered species for human consumption is the cause both of the new coronavirus outbreak and other past epidemics.
The Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, which has been closed down as the source of the infection, had a wild animal section, where live and slaughtered species were on sale. An inventory list at the Da Zhong domestic and wild animals shop inside the market includes live wolf pups, golden cicadas, scorpions, bamboo rats, squirrels, foxes, civets, hedgehogs (probably porcupines), salamanders, turtles and crocodiles. In addition, it offered assorted parts of some animals, such as crocodile tail, belly, tongue and intestines.
January 22, 2020
STATEMENT: Close live animal markets that trade in wildlife
“Governments must recognize the global public health threats of zoonotic diseases," said WCS's Dr. Christian Walzer. "It is time to close live animal markets that trade in wildlife, strengthen efforts to combat trafficking of wild animals, and work to change dangerous wildlife consumption behaviors, especially in cities. It is essential to invest resources not only into discovering new viruses but more importantly in determining the epidemiological drivers of zoonotic spillover, amplification, and spread of infectious diseases."