The illegal trafficking of wildlife is a multibillion-dollar industry and it is now recognized as a leading threat not only to biodiversity conservation, but also to public health. Evidence is mounting that diseases emerging from wildlife trade can have exorbitant public health and economic consequences. The 2003 SARS outbreak that infected thousands of people and caused billions of dollars of economic damage has been linked to wildlife sold in Chinese wildlife markets.
The immense profitability of this illegal wildlife trafficking has hindered decades of conservation-focused advocacy work. However, the negative public health and costly economic impacts of emerging diseases represent a compelling argument for governments to enforce existing laws and create new ones as needed to halt this destructive practice. Working with a wide range of partners, WCS health scientists are collecting data on diseases emerging from the global wildlife trade. This vital information is needed to better characterize public health threats and help leverage political will to turn the tide against this ecologically devastating industry.
WCS is a key partner in the LACANET project that is researching the prevalence of diseases of local importance, such as typhus, anthrax, rabies, leptospirosis and trichinella, in wildlife found in markets in Southeast Asia to better understand the risks and guide disease outbreak response and mitigation strategies. The WCS Health Program is also working on the global PREDICT project funded by USAID, studying emerging zoonotic viruses at their source and where risky human behaviors, such as hunting, trade and consumption of wildlife, increase the likelihood of disease spillover events.
Wildlife Trade and Human Health in Lao PDR: An Assessment of the Zoonotic Disease Risk in Markets
Barcoding at the Border: On-the-go Genetic Test to Stop Illegal Wildlife Trafficking