AZA News Releases

AZA Launches New Initiative Aimed at Zoonotic Disease Threats

The “Reduce the Risk” initiative links human and animal health as key to pandemic prevention.

Silver Spring, Maryland (January 11, 2021) – Zoonotic diseases are a threat to human and animal health worldwide, as more than two-thirds of all emerging infectious diseases of humans are zoonotic. To address this crisis, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and its members are launching a new initiative. “Reduce the Risk: A Crisis in Human and Animal Health” aims to reduce zoonotic disease threats by combating wildlife trade that poses a risk to human and animal health.

“The current COVID-19 crisis was knowable, predictable, and preventable. 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,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. “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.”

“COVID-19 has been a global wake-up call for One Health action,” said Sharon Deem, DVM, Ph.D, Dipl ACZM, Director of the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine. “This pandemic tragically reminds us of the ties that bind the health of human and non-human animals, and the environments that sustain all life. Through the collective work of AZA institutions that ensure the health, welfare, and conservation of non-domestic animals, we combat zoonotic spillover events, such as COVID-19, that threaten human public health.”

“Reduce the Risk” builds upon existing AZA initiatives, connects these efforts across the community, and provides AZA members and partners with a comprehensive framework through which they can take collective action.

The initiative was developed with input from wildlife trade and animal health experts from inside and outside of the AZA community and will utilize four strategic pillars:

  1. Strengthen national policy on wildlife trade;

  2. Advocate for stronger wildlife trade policies at the global level;

  3. Increase AZA programs and efforts that support the Reduce the Risk initiative goal;

  4. Educate and mobilize the public to help us reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases.

“While it is very important to develop vaccines, like the COVID vaccine, they are not the sole solution, and we also need to do preventive work,” said Darin Collins, DVM, Director of Animal Health Programs at the Woodland Park Zoo. “Like preventive medicine, if we don’t have a preventive treatment for our planet, we are going to continue to cause human health problems. It’s the same with pandemics. If we don’t find solutions to wildlife trafficking, deforestation and habitat fragmentation, the pandemic zoonotic disease threats will continue.”

“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.”

Additional information on Reduce the Risk can be found on the AZA website at: www.aza.org/reduce-the-risk.

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.


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