Where the Wild Things Are

A new bill aims to reduce the likelihood of future pandemics by clamping down on wildlife markets.

As many as 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases among humans—including Ebola, H1N1 and now, COVID-19— are believed to be zoonotic, or originating from an animal.

Bipartisan legislation introduced yesterday would pressure governments to shut down markets that sell high-risk wildlife for human consumption and curb the global illegal and unregulated trade in wildlife.

Lawmakers and conservation experts say both factors are making these types of outbreaks more likely.

Specifically, the bill directs US government agencies to identify which species and practices in live wildlife markets are most likely to spark a zoonotic disease outbreak and to work with foreign governments to close them.

It also authorizes the president to sanction nations where high-risk wildlife markets remain open.

The bill was introduced by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and is supported by leading conservation organizations including World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International.

There’s also growing support for regulation of the sale and consumption of high-risk wildlife products in the regions where they are most common. A recent survey found 93% of respondents across Southeast and East Asia support efforts to close all illegal and unregulated markets selling wild animals.