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Wildlife markets and disease transmission

NEW YORK (JULY 8) A consortium of scientists from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society announced this week that one way to reduce the risks of future SARS-like diseases is to control wildlife markets. Specifically, markets selling wild animals for their meat not only threaten wildlife populations, but also present a grave threat to humans. A recent example of the problem is the suspected link between wildlife markets in China and the outbreak of SARS in humans. Other possible cases include bushmeat and Ebola outbreaks in Africa, West Nile virus and monkeypox. Even the primate origins of HIV point to a link between wildlife and human disease.

Since humans first walked upright they have eaten wildlife. But human population densities were far lower than today well under one person per square mile in most tropical forests, for example. Animals were only hunted on a scale to support the subsistence needs of local human populations, and international trade in wildlife was negligible or absent.

In many areas around the world, traditional hunting is little changed today, where wildlife is carried for a maximum of one or two day's walk back to the community. Consumers and animals live in similar ecosystems and have been co-existing for many generations. Cross-species diseases do still occur in these remote rural towns, but some resistance to local diseases has developed over the ages and many local, religious, and cultural rules on the handling and consumption of animals developed to protect people from these illnesses.

But in today's global marketplace, wildlife is just another commodity. Wildlife for food markets and the pet trade are often transported over enormous distances. For example, animals found in markets in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China include soft-shelled turtles captured in Sumatra (1,900 miles away), pangolins from Vietnam (930 miles) and Thailand (1,100 miles), pythons from the Mandalay area, Myanmar (1,950 miles?), a
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Contact: Stephen Sautner
ssautner@wcs.org
718-220-3682
Wildlife Conservation Society
8-Jul-2003


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