Scientists and public health officials have long advised of the risk posed by wildlife-related zoonotic diseases, and recognised the conditions that make spillover from animals to humans more likely, including through certain high-risk animal-related trade, markets and consumption. Most recently, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services IPBES estimated that another “1.7 million currently undiscovered viruses are thought to exist in mammal and avian hosts”, of which “631,000–827,000 could have the ability to infect humans”.
For this reason, the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime (“the Initiative”) believes it is imperative to strengthen the current international legal framework to include human health and animal health criteria into decision-making on wildlife trade, markets and consumption, thereby taking a “One Health” approach. .
The initial preference of the Initiative was to amend the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), given its well-established governance and permitting processes, and the impact it has on national legislation. It was, however, a big step for CITES to broaden its focus after 50 years, and it did not find favor with parties, as well as some observers, including over a concern that opening CITES for these amendments could open it to others. While the Initiative maintains this initial proposal on its webpage, and it did support the adoption of relevant decisions under CITES and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), it is now fully focused on supporting the negotiation of a Pandemic Instrument under the World Health Organization (WHO), which, as a new instrument, may offer even greater scope for advancing a One Health approach to wildlife trade and markets.
Welcoming the decision of the World Health Assembly to explore the benefits of an international Pandemic Instrument, the Initiative issued a Briefing Paper outlining a number of specific suggestions. Since that time, it has continued to use its platform and network to ensure that any such instrument helps to prevent future pandemics that could emerge from human interaction with wild animals. To advance these efforts, and further intensify its collaboration with other like-minded organisations, End Wildlife Crime joined the informal Pandemics and Animal Welfare (PAW) Coalition, hosted by one of its international Champions, Four Paws.
Read the Coalition’s Open Letter to the WHO and Member States on the Pandemic Instrument Zero Draft above, urging parties to include bold measures to prevent outbreaks at the source by addressing high-risk activities, such as wildlife trade. See also ‘CITES, Wildlife, and Pandemics: Failure to Grasp the Nettle’ by Dan Ashe, Dr. Sharon L. Deem, and John Scanlon AO.
The Initiative is also an active member of the International Alliance on Health Risks in Wildlife Trade, hosted by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). In January 2023, GIZ awarded End Wildlife Crime, the ICCF Group and Legal Atlas a grant of €212,103.23 for a new pandemic prevention project, focusing on Angola, Botswana and Zambia project, titled Preventing future zoonotic pandemics: strengthening national legal frameworks and international cooperation.
The overarching goal of the project is to establish a model for legislative improvement in the field of zoonotic disease prevention and control, which will be implemented at a minimum in three target countries: Angola, Botswana, and Zambia. By the end of the project, target jurisdictions will have additional knowledge tools (e.g., legal best practices, fact sheets, legislative agendas, etc.) at their disposal to independently draft or amend legislation and better control the emergence of zoonotic diseases. To have the maximum impact, the project will focus on three neighboring states in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), the largest transfrontier conservation area in the world. Legal development in this key area is expected to have significant regional impact, serving as a model for other African jurisdictions. The scalable regulatory standards developed during the project are also expected to be closely analysed and potentially adopted in other jurisdictions worldwide.
While it is still too early to draw any final conclusions about the origins of COVID-19, there is a large and growing body of evidence confirming the association between ecosystem degradation, the exploitation of wild animals, and emerging infectious diseases, and other negative impacts on human health, as well as animal health.
An effective approach to the prevention of pandemics needs to address not only disease surveillance, monitoring, control, and mitigation, but also the risk of pathogens spilling over to people in the first place, including through the collection from the wild, keeping, breeding, production, trade, marketing and illicit trafficking of wild animals.
JO-ANNE MCARTHUR ©PHOTOGRAPHERS AGAINST WILDLIFE CRIMETM