COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus of zoonotic origin, has wreaked havoc on the global community. The social and economic impacts of the current pandemic crisis will be felt far into the future, and life for many will not be the same. In the United States, we have seen this illness strike unrelentingly the most vulnerable members of our society. This includes those with underlying chronic health conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders in communities that have less access to healthcare services. Even as policy makers respond to the daily needs of people affected by the virus, and facilitate efforts to find a cure, we must also look ahead, to reduce the chances of another pandemic caused by a zoonotic spillover event.

The undersigned organizations and individuals urge leaders around the world to move swiftly to protect us all against future pandemics and diseases of wild animal origin. We suggest that the following principles guide what must be a sustained and coordinated effort:

  • While the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 originated in wildlife[1], the proximate cause of the current pandemic was human behavior: our exploitation of wildlife, among other things, may have created the opportunity for a novel virus to jump from wildlife to human beings. That virus has spread from person to person, and around the world.

The risk for zoonotic illness to spill over into the human population can be created by human interactions with wildlife, including:

  • Operating live wildlife markets[2];
  • Consuming wildlife, wildlife parts, or wildlife products, and preparing wildlife  for consumption;
  • Keeping wild animals as pets;
  • Handling wild animals in commercial trade; and
  • Destroying wildlife habitat.
  • These activities not only lead to direct interactions between humans and wild animals, they also create conditions that make disease transmission more likely because:
    • Animals that are stressed[3] from the process of capture, transport, habitat destruction, or food insecurity are more likely to shed viruses in a way that can lead to spillover[4];
    • Bringing different species into closer contact with one another at live wildlife markets, or through other means, including habitat encroachment, can allow viruses to jump from one species to another, including humans[5]; and
    • Reducing biodiversity and the destruction of or encroachment into wildlife habitats, particularly in tropical forests, can increase the likelihood of diseases spilling over into human populations[6].
  • To prevent wildlife-borne zoonotic disease spread to humans and reduce the risk of future zoonotic pandemics, initiatives should focus on:
    • Reducing consumer demand for wildlife for consumption and as pets;
    • Reducing commercial trade in wildlife;
    • Eliminating wildlife trafficking;
    • Increasing funding for implementation and enforcement of wildlife protection laws in the United States and for international collaborations to protect wildlife;
    • Closing live wildlife markets;
    • Protecting wildlife in wild habitats;
    • Protecting and connecting wild habitats so biodiversity can thrive;
    • Significantly increasing support for conservation programs, both domestically and internationally;
    • Incorporating a One Health[7] approach into conservation and public health policies;
    • Establishing and supporting longitudinal interdisciplinary global research programs to understand and track wildlife biomes and related human health factors; and
    • Addressing poverty and associated problems, including food and resource insecurity, that contribute to habitat destruction, wildlife exploitation, and biodiversity loss.

[1] In this document, the term “wildlife” refers to wild animals, regardless of whether they are captured from the wild or bred in captivity.

[2] Live wildlife markets often involve the commingling of wildlife acquired from wild habitats with other live animals, including those species traditionally labeled as livestock, which are also vulnerable to zoonotic infections. This coalition is focused on wildlife, which includes exotic species that might be farmed, sold, and consumed in these markets.

[3] Wildlife that is sold in live animal markets is acquired through the destruction of wild habitats or through the captive breeding of exotic species. The process of chase, capture, and transport from the wild to markets where wildlife are often held in cramped cages and slaughtered amidst conspecifics and consumers causes stress to animals, is arguably inhumane, and can increase susceptibility to pathogens.  See for example: Hing et al. (2016) https://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/30933/1/relationship-between-physiological-stress-and-wildlife-disease.pdf  and Plowright et al. (2008) https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2007.1260

[4,5,6] National Research Council (US) Committee on Achieving Sustainable Global Capacity for Surveillance and Response to Emerging Diseases of Zoonotic Origin; Keusch GT, Pappaioanou M, Gonzalez MC, et al., editors. Sustaining Global Surveillance and Response to Emerging Zoonotic Diseases. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2009. 3, Drivers of Zoonotic Diseases.  Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK215318/.

[7] One Health is a collaborative, multi-sectoral, and transdisciplinary approach—working at the local, regional, national, and global levels—with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes by recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment. More information is available at https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/index.html.