Fact Sheet

Wildlife Disease



NCEL Point of Contact

Logan Christian
Wildlife and Habitat Coordinator



Wildlife, or “zoonotic” diseases are caused by the transfer of pathogens between humans and animals. Over 75% of emerging diseases (such as COVID-19) originate in wildlife; their spread is exacerbated by deforestation, wildlife exploitation, development, and poor waste management, all of which increase wild animal-human proximity and the chance of wildlife disease spillover. The costs of wildlife diseases to public health are enormous, and tend to fall disproportionately on BIPOC communities, stemming from poor health care access and structural discrimination. At the state level, policy options include restrictions on animal trafficking and trade, surveillance/reporting, and sharing of information and response. If states do not take action, wildlife diseases will continue to spread, and future pandemics could be even harder to control.

Key Points

Key Point 1

Approximately one-quarter of human deaths are caused by infectious diseases and nearly 60% of infectious diseases originate in wildlife. (EcoHealth)

Key Point 2

Examples of wildlife diseases include: COVID-19, HIV, Malaria, Ebola, SARS, bird flu, swine flu, West Nile and Lyme disease, and almost all started with wildlife exploitation through trade or hunting. (CDC)

Key Point 3

Nationally, Black, Hispanic and Native Americans suffer from disproportionate COVID-19 case and death rates while often living in low income areas that enable production of disease carrying mosquitoes. (NPR)

Key Point 4

Wet markets bring together wildlife, domestic animals and humans that might never be in close contact otherwise - this allows disease to spill over to humans and between species. (Scientific American)

State Options

  • Fund inspection and enforcement of illegal wildlife trafficking
  • Wildlife trafficking bans and restrictions on exotic species and species that are known disease carriers
  • Protect and maintain biodiversity and ecosystem health – more diverse and healthy wildlife populations can help buffer humans against infection
  • Restrict high risk wildlife markets with assistance
    for alternative protein sources for food insecure communities and those that rely on wildlife markets – introduced at the federal level in 2020


NCEL Resources

Online Resources

Wildlife Disease - NCEL

NCEL's Wildlife Disease issue page with more information and relevant legislation.

Go to resource
Beyond banning wildlife trade: COVID-19, conservation and development - NIH

National Institute of Health report on additional measures to limit wildlife diseases beyond the banning of wildlife markets.

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The "Next" Pandemic: How States Can Avert It - ACOEL

American College of Environmental Lawyers’ measures that states can adopt to help prevent or mitigate the next pandemic.

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Wildlife diseases compound crises in minority communities such as the Navajo People - Scientific American

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