AZA News Releases

Testimony of Dan Ashe Before the Virtual Democratic Roundtable on Wildlife Disease Prevention

Dan Ashe, President and CEO
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Virtual Democratic Roundtable on Wildlife Disease Prevention
May 19, 2020

Good afternoon Chairman Grijalva, and greetings from Reid Park Zoo and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, two exemplary AZA-accredited facilities, in Tucson, Arizona. Thank you for convening this roundtable and inviting me to participate.

I’ll begin with the punch line: As a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director and career employee, and as President and CEO of The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, I applaud your leadership  in addressing the trade in wild animals, legal and illegal, that vastly increases the probabilities for zoonotic disease transmission, and pandemics such as our nation and the world are now suffering.

Thank you!

Undoubtedly, legions of experts will spend years dissecting this pandemic, as they should, to mine the lessons that can be learned to better prepare us for the next. And all the evidence suggests there will be a next pandemic.

But we must not fall into the trap of preparing to fight the last war. We must prepare for the next, and the best way to be prepared is to follow Benjamin Franklin’s advice, and search for those ounces of prevention that will help us avoid pounds of cure.

What you are proposing are those ounces of prevention that will reduce the likelihood and frequency of next pandemics.

By amending the nation’s oldest and most enduring wildlife conservation law – the Lacey Act – you will grant clear authority and responsibility  to the nation’s premier wildlife conservation agency to apply a precautionary and preventative approach to regulating trade in species that are injurious to either wild or human life. I’ve had some experience in doing this, and the current law is ill-equipped.

I support public process and transparency, but when good scientific evidence indicates that wildlife trade is injurious to native wildlife, and especially human life, our government needs the legal authority to act decisively. Your amendments will help stop introduction of injurious species, including those that pose a threat to human health, by expanding the Lacey Act listing authority to include species that good science tells us present substantial  risk of pathogenic spillover from animals to humans. Your amendments add emergency listing authority, and ensure that injurious species listings can be enforced against interstate commerce in those species. Your amendments convey the responsibility and authority to apply a precautionary and preventative approach that will help reshape our relationships to wildlife.

These changes will significantly improve domestic wildlife conservation and perhaps more significantly, they will demonstrate U.S. commitment and leadership internationally. Our nation will not just be wagging its rhetorical finger at the “wet markets” and wildlife consumption traditions of other nations, but will be putting in place a legal framework to clean up our own act, and to support future international agreements domestically.

Dr. Sharon Deem directs the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine. She and the zoo are leaders in a growing field called “One Health” and are helping build a next generation of One Health practitioners who are linking animal, human and ecosystem health.

Mr. Chairman, your amendments will make the Lacey Act America’s “One Health Law”. And I would hope that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, USAID, CDC and others will use this opportunity to partner with organizations like the Saint Louis Zoo, and professionals like Dr. Sharon Deem, to couple wildlife health and conservation, public health and epidemiology, and global-level surveillance and law enforcement into a One Health Movement.

COVID-19 has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and devastated the world economy. At its root is our exploitation of wildlife. We need to change our relationships with nature and wildlife. Your efforts will be a significant step forward. And hopefully, they will inspire others to lead and join together in a One Health Movement.

Thank you.

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