In the wake of increasing zoonotic diseases across the world, a group of international organisations have come up with four guiding principles for reducing the risk of future pandemics originating from wild animals.
The principles have been designed to strengthen the conservation of wildlife whilst respecting livelihoods, food security and culture of diverse groups of people, said the Members of the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management (CPW).
CPW comprises an experienced group of international organizations that have a shared interest in a pragmatic, science-based approach for developing, monitoring, and guiding joint initiatives for the sustainable, legal and safe use of wildlife and conservation of biodiversity.
First principle: Recognize importance of use of wildlife for many communities, including Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs), in policy responses.
The CPW said that wildlife was part of the culture and tradition of numerous Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) in various parts. Moreover, wildlife contributes to food security, health, jobs income and cultural identity of several rural economies.
They noted that the rights of IPLCs to use manage and conserve wildlife and other natural resources are highlighted in declarations of the United Nations and are enshrined in many national legal systems. IPLCs should be meaningfully involved in decisions about the future use and management of wildlife and forests.
Second principle: Maintain and restore healthy and resilient ecosystems to reduce risks of zoonotic spill overs and future pandemics.
The CPW members maintained that healthy ecosystems are vital for the planet and help in reducing risks of future disease spill over. They also help in mitigating climate change, which is considered a major driver exacerbating the risk of disease emergence and their spread. A healthy ecosystem is also needed to sustain food production, water and air purification, soil formation, nutrient recycling and for providing genetic resources and habitats.
The CPW said that both the immediate pressures of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation as well as the underlying drivers must be addressed through an integrated approach to reduce the risk of future zoonotic diseases.
Third principle: Persecution including killing of wild animals suspected of transmitting diseases will not address the causes of the emergence or spread of zoonotic diseases.
Pointing out that it was unlikely that Covid-19 jumped directly to humans from bats, the CPW said that the disease has spread globally by human to human transmission. As such the targeted killing of animal species in the wild, such as bats, will not stop the spread of the disease. These would have no use and only put the population of these species at risk. Instead of killing the wild species, the focus should be on addressing the underlying causes and risk factors of disease spillover.
Fourth principle: Regulate, manage and monitor harvesting, trade and use of wildlife to ensure it is safe, sustainable and legal.
In the statement, the CPW mentions that humans exploited wildlife for consumptive and non-consumptive uses. Several species are in decline and are facing the risk of extinction. They also said noted that some of the uses of wildlife are not safe that posed risks to human health, including zoonoses. They said that management and regulation of wildlife harvest was needed. In cases where harvest, use or trade of wild meat is unsustainable or unsafe, developing alternatives to wild meat use, for example promoting ‘alternative livelihoods approaches’ could be useful, they said.