Oakland Zoo Backs New Initiative Aimed at Ending Zoonotic Disease Threats

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

Ting Ting – sun bear at Oakland Zoo

The aim is to use precautions to prevent any potential spread but not inhibit the high standards of care and attention our animals rely on to be happy and healthy

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. A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be transmitted from animals to people or, more specifically, a disease that normally exists in animals but that can infect humans.

To address this crisis, Oakland Zoo and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) 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.”

“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:

  • Strengthen national policy on wildlife trade.
  • Advocate for stronger wildlife trade policies at the global level.
  • Increase AZA programs and efforts that support the Reduce the Risk initiative goal.
  • Educate and mobilize the public to help us reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases.

“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. Unless we learn these lessons and take steps to reduce related risks, the same will be true of the next pandemic and the next” said Dan Ashe, President, and CEO of AZA.

With approximately 50% of Oakland Zoo’s animal residents being rescues, many of those rescues were also victims of (illegal) wildlife trade from overseas. Animals confiscated by officials at SFO and the Port of Oakland have been brought to Oakland Zoo over the years where they have been treated by veterinary hospital staff, quarantined, and then monitored for health by animal care and veterinary hospital staff.

Oakland Zoo has been vigilant in avoiding an increase of zoonotic disease transmission since the beginning of quarantine in March of 2020, by continuing strict practices that include:

  • Any staff exhibiting clinical signs of COVID-19 are not allowed on Zoo premises.
  • Daily health assessments and temperature checks conducted by supervisors.
  • Masks are worn by all staff.
  • Continuous hand washing throughout shifts.
  • Social distancing with all personnel (staff and volunteers) in shared areas - break rooms, office spaces, etc.
  • Limited volunteers and vendors/guests also complete a COVID survey before entering the Zoo.

"The aim is to use precautions to prevent any potential spread but not inhibit the high standards of care and attention our animals rely on to be happy and healthy," says Darren Minier, Assistant Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research at Oakland Zoo.

Launching in Spring 2021, Oakland Zoo is opening a new 400 square foot exhibit, focused on addressing and demonstrating the effects and devastation of the (illegal) wildlife trade industry - responsible for decimating many animal species and also many zoonotic diseases.

“Our new exhibit about the wildlife trade industry is one of the most important messages we can pass on to our visitors. Combating the wildlife trade globally helps protect animal species populations and protects people from zoonotic diseases. As a wildlife conservation organization, this is at the heart of our mission,” said Dr. Joel Parrott, President, and CEO of Oakland Zoo.

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

ABOUT OAKLAND ZOO AND THE CONSERVATION SOCIETY OF CALIFORNIA:
Oakland Zoo, home to more than 850 native and exotic animals, is managed by the Conservation Society of California (CSC); a non-profit organization leading an informed and inspired community to take action for wildlife locally and globally. With over 25 conservation partners and projects worldwide, the CSC is committed to conservation-based education and saving species and their habitats in the wild. Oakland Zoo is dedicated to the humane treatment of animals and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the national organization that sets the highest standards for animal welfare for zoos and aquariums.

ABOUT ASSOCIATION OF ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS (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 http://www.aza.org.

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Isabella Linares
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