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WWF works to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, collaborating with partners from local to global levels in nearly 100 countries.
Concern around zoonotic infectious diseases has been prevalent over the past two decades, as we have seen outbreaks of monkeypox in 2022, COVID-19, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003.
It’s why WWF has increasingly focused on human and wildlife health as part of our work, including an innovative new approach to reducing the consumption of high-risk wildlife. Even though outbreaks, epidemics, and even pandemics are emerging with increasing frequency—with an estimated 75% of new human diseases having come from animals in the last 30 years—most of the pathogens that animals carry pose very little threat to people if they are left in the wild. Instead, high-risk human activities that encroach into wild places and lead to close interactions between different wildlife species and humans are the primary reasons leading to severe outbreaks. Particularly risky behaviors include poaching, transporting, trading, processing, and eating wild animals.
WWF ran a campaign called Zero Wild Meat targeting consumption of wild meat between October and December 2022 among urban and provincial consumers in Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Lao PDR with the goal of reducing demand and consumptive behaviors. The campaign largely focused on wild meat consumed in restaurants, households, or marketplaces, and not in vulnerable, rural communities where livelihoods can depend on such consumption.
These three countries have some of the highest observed levels of wild meat consumption, which often brings wild mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians into the marketplace and restaurants. Wild meat is a pricey dish in many places, representing wealth and high status, and is also considered to be a delicacy or nutritional with multiple health benefits. Such consumption heavily threatens the survival of wildlife populations, fuels transboundary and domestic wildlife crime, and significantly increases the risk of zoonotic spillover from animals to people. Most consumers tend to be unaware of the potential risk they are exposing themselves, their loved ones, and their community to when they consume wild meat dishes and how such choices can pose both a public health and conservation threat.
Because of the various complex drivers of wild meat consumption, Zero Wild Meat focused on reducing the consumption of particularly high-risk wildlife that could lead to zoonotic spillover and future pandemics, combining health and conservation messaging. In collaboration with national and provincial government agencies, business partners, non-profit organizations, media, as well as health experts and social media influencers, the message of the campaign—“a taste of wild meat brings unpredictable risks”—was widely spread both online and offline. The campaign sought to illustrate the adverse impacts of wild meat consumption, including the specific health risks, extinction potential of local species, loss of nature, and legal repercussions. This cross-sector collaboration was instrumental in ensuring that this campaign’s message was widespread and put in front of those who needed to see and learn from it.
Upon completion of the campaign, when asked, 95% of wild meat consumers who saw the message of the campaign said that they were convinced to altogether stop consuming wild meat, or less of it. Conservation—the protection of nature and prevention of wildlife extinction—is the most common reason in both Viet Nam and Lao PDR for not eating wild meat, followed by legality concerns in Viet Nam and the potential for disease occurrence in Lao PDR. In both countries, people who saw the campaign were more likely to reject wild meat than people who did not see the campaign due to concerns about diseases passing from animals to humans.
Efforts and results like this give us hope for people’s willingness to change. Nevertheless, it takes much more than just one campaign to shift social norms and perceptions of wild meat consumption, particularly those that are deeply rooted in culture and tradition. Earlier this year, the US government announced that it was ending COVID-19 emergency declarations on May 11, and so have many other countries around the world, following a pandemic the world has been battling for three years. Pandemics can have devastating consequences, and science has shown that the possibility of future outbreaks is high. No one would like to see this happen, but the good news is that it is in our power to effect the changes needed in our behaviors that have the potential for these harmful repercussions. And one such way is stopping the consumption of wild meat as a pricey dish. This preventive step is something everyone can do to better protect our health and that of our families, wildlife, and nature.