Can we head off the next pandemic?

23 November 2022


World’s Wildlife Trade Regulator recommends measures to reduce zoonotic risk.

© Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach

The world’s wildlife trade regulator has recommended a raft of measures aimed at reducing the risk of future zoonotic diseases emerging from trade in protected species.

The Decisions were agreed at the 19th Conference of Parties (CoP19) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is taking place in Panama City.

Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones, who is at the meeting in Panama, said: “As Covid-19 has made us all too well-aware, the consequences of pandemics of animal origin are devastating for human health and well-being and for national and global economies. The risk of such diseases emerging from traded wildlife is high, particularly when animals are traded live. Crowding, stress and injury among wild animals provide the perfect environment for viruses and other pathogens to spread and mutate, and their close proximity to people during capture, farming, transportation, keeping, butchering, processing and consumption creates opportunities for the transmission of such pathogens between individuals and species, and potentially to people. As the international wildlife trade regulator, CITES therefore has an important and urgent role to play in reducing the risks of future pandemics emerging from CITES-listed wild animals in trade. While the Decisions emerging from Panama are a step in the right direction, a far stronger approach to wildlife trade is needed. We will continue to push for an end to all trade in wildlife that puts the health and well-being of animals and people at risk, through CITES and other international mechanisms.”

Efforts to secure a strong Resolution, proposed by seven west and central African countries, were not taken forward. Instead decisions negotiated at the meeting will instruct governments to introduce a number of measures including:

  • Considering applying approaches to pandemic prevention advocated by the World Health Organisation when regulating the international trade in CITES-listed species;
  • Ensuring live animals in trade, subject to CITES regulations, are properly cared for in captive breeding and ranching establishments, and during holding and transport to minimise the risk of injury, ill health or cruel treatment; and
  • Working with other relevant authorities and experts in animal and public health to develop and implement strategies that aim to identify and reduce the risk of transmission and spill over of zoonotic diseases and pathogen emergence from traded wildlife.

The CITES Secretariat and Committees are also instructed to cooperate with international bodies involved in public and animal health, collecting and making available information that could be useful for national CITES authorities who are responsible for regulating trade, and considering the introduction of further measures such as a Resolution at the next Conference of the Parties in three years’ time.

These recommendations are expected to be adopted at the end of the Conference.