Experts address pathogen threats in wildlife trade

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Bangkok (Thailand), 11 December 2023 – The risks posed by zoonotic diseases — those that can be transmitted from animals to humans — and commercial wildlife trade were at the centre of discussions among experts from the international scientific community gathered in Bangkok today. Together, they identified and developed risk reduction strategies to mitigate the emergence and transmission of these diseases in the region. The meeting was held under the Safety across Asia For the global Environment (SAFE) project, with the support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“The risk for the spillover of zoonotic pathogens from wild animals and their products is real and can initiate new pandemics and epidemics. To protect public health, the mitigation of the risks associated with the human and wildlife interface must be addressed through multisectoral and multiagency coordination, at national and international levels,” said Simone Morales, Scientist at the World Health Organization’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety.

The event showcased some initial findings from the Risk Assessment Framework developed as part of the SAFE project, which was implemented during extensive field visits to Lao PDR, Malaysia, Thailand, and Viet Nam. Through open discussions and expert input, participants prioritized risks and their potential mitigating measures, forming the basis for a shared understanding of the challenges posed by wildlife-related pandemics. Emphasis was placed on addressing illegal wildlife trade — a likely contributor to compounding pathogen transmission.

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Discussions also revolved around the critical nexus of science, law, and policy that informs the legal and policy review component of the SAFE project. Following an overview of the legal review conducted in the four benefiting countries, participants explored the importance of an effective interface between these domains to address gaps and weaknesses in current laws, laying the groundwork for more informed and strategic policy recommendations.

Scott Roberton, Executive Director for Counter Wildlife Trafficking at the Wildlife Conservation Society, welcomed “a very frank discussion about the significant risks of zoonotic pathogen spillover and transmission associated with the current commercial wildlife trade sector and what is needed to break from the status quo before it’s too late and the next pandemic is upon us.”

The insights shared during the event will guide future dialogues to be held in 2024 within the ASEAN region, fostering intra- and inter-regional cooperation and collaboration, particularly through continued engagement of the scientific and policy communities.

More information:

The SAFE project is implemented by the UNODC Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment, in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and benefits from the financial support of the European Union.

Click here to learn more about UNODC's Regional Programme for Southeast Asia.

Click here to learn more about UNODC’s Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment.

Click here to learn more about the SAFE project.

For further information on our work, you can contact Jenna Dawson-Faber, Asia Pacific Coordinator, at