Uncovering What Works to Reduce the Pandemic Risk of Wildlife Trade

Illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products threatens hundreds of species while making people more vulnerable to crime, food insecurity and disease. USAID works to combat wildlife trafficking by strengthening law enforcement from parks to ports, reducing consumer demand for illegal wildlife products, and building cooperation across countries and industries most affected. These approaches are increasingly applying a One Health approach to address the multidimensional threat that illegal wildlife trade poses to human health and wildlife populations.

The massive social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the impacts of wild animal trade in the emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases. New research on the potential health risks at the human-animal interface, alongside the biodiversity and climate crises, support the importance of wildlife and environmental health as part of cross-sectoral precautionary action under the One Health approach.

In 2020, the Wildlife Trafficking, Response, Assessment, and Priority Setting or “Wildlife TRAPS” project—a long-running partnership funded by USAID and implemented by TRAFFIC in collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)—was recalibrated to focus on reducing zoonotic disease risks along wildlife trade chains. The project has leveraged TRAFFIC’s wildlife trade expertise to build new multi-sector partnerships across the One Health spectrum to develop practical responses and explore systems-based approaches.

Wildlife TRAPS emphasizes the importance of trade chain analysis in understanding the stakeholders involved at numerous points of exchange between the wildlife source and end-user, which varies depending on whether the animals are used for food, medicine, clothing, pets, or research. A new TRAPS review, Options for Managing and Tracing Wild Animal Trade Chains to Reduce Zoonotic Risk, lays out this structured approach.

The review examines existing protocols for wildlife trade management, safety, and traceability. It also identifies existing food safety systems that could be adapted to reduce wildlife trade health risks like the systems applied by the Australian kangaroo meat trade, South African ostrich meat industry, and the French venison trade. The review recommends that government authorities and experts working in public and animal health, food safety, natural resource management, and law enforcement collaborate and share knowledge across different wild animal trade systems. Such collaboration could improve supply chain management to eliminate illegal, unsustainable and unsafe practices and to test traceability tools along the wildlife value chain. These sectors could also work together to define minimum biosecurity standards to reduce zoonotic disease risks in legal wild animal trade. 

The Wildlife TRAPS review also recommends the use of social and behavior change approaches to reduce illicit and unsafe practices that could decrease opportunities for zoonotic disease transmission. TRAFFIC’s review of Social and Behavior Change Messaging on Wildlife Trade and Zoonotic Disease Risks, compiled in the wake of COVID-19, shares key tactics for communicating risks associated with wild animal trade. The review found that target audiences were more likely to adopt and respond to behavior change messaging that reflected their personal and pre-existing values, was presented by persons or institutions that they trusted, and provided suitable alternatives to wildlife products that were locally accessible and sustainably sourced and processed. 

The findings of the review are shaping a series of pilot initiatives under the Wildlife TRAPS Project in 2022 and 2023, including an analysis of the potential disease risks in wildlife supply chains in Cameroon and Tanzania and the development of social and behavior change messaging to support safe, sustainable, and legal alternatives and to modify high-risk practices in the supply chains of the game meat industry. In Viet Nam, a pilot activity will support design of social and behavior change interventions encouraging safer behaviors at human-animal interfaces in the wild meat supply chain. In China, engagement will improve sellers’ and pet buyers’ understanding of the potential zoonotic disease risks associated with live wild animal pet trade. 

Staff and analyses supported through Wildlife TRAPS have been informing the work of the One Health Quadripartite, comprising the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Environment Program, the World Health Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health. The Quadripartite recently released the One Health Joint Plan of Action, which builds on existing knowledge and systems to support sustainable health and food systems, reduce global health threats, and improve ecosystem management.

The One Health approach takes a holistic view of health, mutually addressing ecosystem, animal, and human health goals. Wildlife TRAPS is using findings on behavior change to encourage safer practices and reduce risky human–wildlife interaction. By applying lessons learned from its reviews, Wildlife TRAPS aims to reduce the risk of zoonotic disease from illegal, unsustainable and unsafe wildlife trade.

This story was originally posted on USAID.gov.