Officials with the San Francisco Zoo and Gardens on Friday announced a new initiative that aims to bring awareness around zoonotic diseases--diseases transmitted from animals to humans.
As the COVID-19 pandemic endures, and because the virus is suspected to have been initially transmitted from an animal to a human, zoo officials said the campaign to educate people and reduce risks is urgently needed.
The initiative, called Reduce the Risk: A Crisis in Human and Animal Health, is being spearheaded by both the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the zoo, and is targeting the wildlife trade, which zoo officials said is the greatest source of zoonotic disease.
The initiative aims to build on existing legislation to create national and international initiatives that strengthen already existing national policies on wildlife trade; advocate for stronger trade policies; educate and mobilize the public to help reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases; and that advance efforts of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the San Francisco Zoological Society.
"We are acutely aware of the risk of transmissible zoonotic diseases and take every precaution here to ensure the health of animals, staff and guests," CEO and Executive Director of San Francisco Zoological Society Tanya M. Peterson said in a statement.
"We support this new initiative and are prepared to assist in any way we can, including education and awareness-building to our constituents, as we know all too well how the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect all of us." She added, "We are most fortunate that our local community not only consists of many scientific experts but also is strongly against illegal animal trafficking."
"AZA members are experts in safely and effectively importing, exporting, and transporting animals, and have expertise in preventative veterinary care, including quarantine, and measures to enhance resiliency to animal disease and pathogens," AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe said.
"This expertise can provide critical input into national and global policy conversations around wildlife trade and inform the public that zoos and aquariums are safe places to visit. "As we continue to navigate the devastating human loss and economic impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we chart a course toward recovery, we must acknowledge the origin of our current and tragic circumstance: the spillover and transmission of a zoonotic disease, quite possibly in a live animal market in Wuhan, China. But even more important than acknowledging this, we must act now to avert another similar event," continued Ashe.
"Unless we learn these lessons and take steps to reduce related risks, the same will be true of the next pandemic and the next." More information about the new initiative can be found at www.aza.org/reduce-the-risk.