WWF calls for evaluation of wildlife markets to reduce pandemic risk

Posted on 08 July 2021

A new tool will help evaluate the disease risk of the wildlife trade on the ground in Asia.

While the world is still in the throes of the current Covid-19 pandemic, new tools are needed to help governments make decisions and take action to minimize high risk wildlife trade and prevent the next zoonotic disease outbreak. A new paper by WWF, published today in The Lancet Planetary Health, presents a tool that will help decision makers evaluate the risk profiles of different wildlife markets and trade chains to develop adaptive solutions.
Zoonotic spillovers are predicted to become more frequent as humans become increasingly exposed to novel pathogens through the juggernaut of natural habitat destruction and increased interfaces with wildlife. One key point of contact between humans and wildlife is through the global wildlife trade. It is necessary to urgently evaluate the zoonotic risk potential of this commerce and prevent future outbreaks before they happen. WWF‘s Asia-Pacific Counter-Illegal Wildlife Trade Hub has developed a tool, in collaboration with City University of Hong Kong, WWF-Greater Mekong, WWF-Germany and The University of Hong Kong, to monitor wildlife trade venues and assess them for potential zoonotic disease risk.
“Although we have seen broad wildlife trade and consumption bans by some countries, eventually we will see more nuanced solutions that call for bans of specific high disease-risk wildlife species,” said Dr. Eric Wikramanayake, WWF Asia-Pacific Counter-Illegal Wildlife Trade Hub Lead and Wildlife and Wetland Director at WWF-Hong Kong. “The tool we have developed can be used to evaluate the risks associated with the sale of wildlife taxa and produce more specific recommendations for policymakers to combat this risk.”
While some arguments have been made that improved market hygiene could lower the risk of zoonotic disease spillover, if high disease-risk taxa, such as bats, pangolins, primates, viverrids, mustelids, canids, and felids are traded, the probability of viral spillover to humans remains high, and the consequences can be dire.
“We need to accept that risk will never be zero, even with the most stringent risk mitigation measures. The aim has to be linking the epidemiology of relevant infectious pathogens with an understanding of the complexity of wildlife trade value chains, so that targeted interventions can be implemented. Our tool is a step into that direction,” said Dr. Dirk U. Pfeiffer, Chair Professor of One Health at the City University of Hong Kong.
The evaluation tool takes a One Health approach, recognizing the connection between people, nature and their shared environment, and provides a way for policy makers to take a holistic approach to ecosystem, animal and human health.
"The evidence about the disease-risk of legal and illegal wildlife trade that can be generated from using this tool will help restrict the trade and reduce wildlife consumption,” added Dr. K. Yoganand, WWF Greater Mekong’s Wildlife and Wildlife Crime lead. “Restricting high disease-risk trade is urgent for public health, and will also help mitigate the devastation caused by the wildlife trade on the survival of numerous wildlife species and the ecosystem functions they perform.”

About WWF-Hong Kong
WWF is a leading global conservation organization, with a network active in more than 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. WWF-Hong Kong has been working since 1981 to deliver solutions for a living planet through conservation, footprint and education programmes, with the aim of transforming Hong Kong into Asia’s most sustainable city.
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