WCS Calls for Closing Live Animal Markets that Trade in Wildlife in Wake of Coronavirus Outbreak

With the outbreak of the Conronavirus, the Wildlife Conservation Society is calling for governments to recognize the global public health threats of live animal markets and to strengthen enforcement efforts on trafficking of wild animals. Poorly regulated, live animal markets mixed with illegal wildlife trade offer a unique opportunity for viruses to spillover from wildlife hosts into the human population and for viruses to exchange viral components amongst the multiple species being traded creating new viruses with new host spectrums. 

Said Dr. Christian Walzer, executive director of the WCS Health Program:

“Governments must recognize the global public health threats of zoonotic diseases. 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 behaviours, 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.

“Chinese scientists believe the Coronavirus originated in wildlife sold illegally in a live animal market. This virus is closely related to SARS and it now appears the spill-over to humans followed a similar transmission path. China closed Wuhan markets where this new virus was tracked back to – but similar markets occur in other cities across China and other Asian countries. If these markets persist, and human consumption of illegal and unregulated wildlife persists, then the public will continue to face heightened risks from emerging new viruses, potentially more lethal and the source of future pandemic spread.

“Poorly regulated live animal markets, where wild animals, farmed-wildlife, and domestic animals are transported from across the regions and housed together to sell for human consumption provide ideal conditions for the emergence of new viruses that threaten human health, economic stability, and ecosystem health.

“The re-assortment and exchange of viral components between species at live animal markets is seen as the major source of new viruses. These can be zoonotic (i.e. Avian Influenza, Swine Influenza, SARS, MERS) and subsequently successfully transmit between humans creating the conditions for a rapid global pandemic spread.    

“Seventy percent of all newly emerging infectious diseases have a wildlife reservoir and the continued encroachment and destruction of wildlife habitat greatly increases the opportunity for spillover. It is also important to put zoonotic diseases in context: while zoonotic viruses, are the most frequently emerging human pathogen, they constitute less than 15% of all known species of human pathogens, but over 65% of pathogens discovered since 1980.”

Wildlife Conservation Society Health Program

In the last few decades, it has become increasingly evident that conservation, our own health, and the health of wild and domestic animals are all inextricably linked. A single pathogen can wipe out the last populations of an endangered species and, in turn, threaten the stability of local human populations. Thus there is an urgent need to simultaneously address the health of people, animals and the environment recognizing that disease poses challenges to both conservation of the planet’s biodiversity and efforts to improve the quality of human life.

Additional Background: Global leaders in wildlife and human health issued 10 principles – The Berlin Principles – with 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.


Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org. Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: +1 (347) 840-1242.