How to cut the risk of future pandemics – four principles to guard against new diseases from the wild

21 October 2020, Rome - A group of fourteen international organizations working together to support the safe, sustainable use of wildlife has issued four guiding principles which, if applied, will help reduce the risk of future pandemics originating from wild animals while also strengthening wildlife conservation and respecting the needs of wildlife-dependent communities.

The Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management (CPW), of which FAO is a member and hosts the Secretariat, has substantial expertise in the sustainable use and trade of wildlife; food security; human livelihoods and well-being; the prevention and mitigation of human–wildlife conflicts; and animal health. It developed the four principles based on a recent dialogue among its members, taking advantage of their broad collective experience and knowledge.

COVID-19 is one of an increasing number of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) transmitted between domestic or wild animals and humans, known collectively as “zoonotic diseases”, or zoonoses. More than 60 percent of all EID events involve zoonoses, and the majority of those originate in wildlife and are increasing significantly over time.

In their joint statement, the CPW members warn against “poorly considered or simplistic responses” to the risk of zoonoses such as COVID-19, which could have perverse effects such as undermining the food security and livelihoods of communities and benefiting criminal syndicates. The statement urges immediate investment in integrated socio-economic stimulus packages that address long-term planetary health, food security, poverty alleviation, climate change and biodiversity loss. The CPW members emphasize the need to implement an inclusive ‘One Health approach’ that integrates “ecosystem health” dimension through ecological thinking and sound science.

“Together, it is possible to integrate health, food security and biodiversity approaches to reduce the risk of future pandemics,” the CPW members said in the statement. The CPW’s four guiding principles will assist practitioners and decision-makers in doing this.

The first of the four principles holds that policy responses must recognize that wildlife use is important to many indigenous peoples and local communities, contributing to food security, health, income, jobs and cultural identity.

According to the second principle, the restoration and maintenance of healthy ecosystems will reduce the risk of zoonotic spillovers and future pandemics. Deforestation, habitat degradation and the unsustainable expansion of agriculture are bringing humans and livestock into increasingly close contact with wildlife, heightening the risk that zoonotic diseases will emerge and spread.

The third principle states that the persecution – including killing – of wild animals suspected of transmitting diseases will not address the causes of the emergence or spread of zoonoses. In the case of COVID-19, for example, the targeted killing of bat species in the wild will not stop the spread of the disease and would put populations of such species at risk and reduce their positive roles in pest regulation and pollination.

The fourth principle contained in the CPW statement advises that the harvesting, trade and use of wildlife should be regulated, managed and monitored to ensure it is safe, sustainable and legal. Some forms of wildlife utilization pose risks – including zoonoses – to human health. Adequate oversight is crucial, therefore, for conservation, animal and human health, and combating illegal, unhealthy and unsustainable practices.

Application of the principles will also help wildlife conservation efforts and ensure that the measures taken respect the livelihoods, food security and cultures of groups that use wildlife as part of their customary activities.

The full statement is available here.

For future information:
CPW website: http://www.fao.org/forestry/wildlife-partnership

last updated:  Wednesday, October 21, 2020