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Reducing the risk of zoonotic diseases: public outreach in Vietnam

14 January 2021

Like many countries, Vietnam is suffering the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to reduce the risk of outbreaks of similar zoonotic diseases and to promote nature conservation rather than the trading in wild animals, our local partner PanNature educates citizens on the risks of wildlife farming.

Commercial wildlife farming, that is the breeding in captivity of wild animals that are normally not domesticated in order to sell them as pets or to sell their meat, fur, leather, traditional medicine, is thriving in Vietnam. ‘According to recent report, around 18 thousand facilities breed many hundreds of thousands of wild animals covering 100 rare and precious species,’ says Mr. Trinh Le Nguyen, Executive Director of PanNature.

Wildlife farming is legal in Vietnam as the government considers it contributes to economic development and rural employment. It is also seen as reducing pressure on endangered animals in the wild that would otherwise be hunted down.

Threat of zoonotic diseases

Our local partner organisation PanNature, however, warns for the risks this sector poses. ‘Harmful viruses can be transmitted from wild animals to humans,’ Mr. Trinh Le Nguyen explains. ‘This was the reason for the initial outbreak of COVID-19.’

Wildlife laundering

‘Besides, in Vietnam, commercial wildlife farming does not meet the requirements to contribute to wildlife conservation,’ says Jan Willem den Besten, Senior Expert Ecosystems & Climate at IUCN NL. ‘On the contrary, through “wildlife laundering”, where illegally caught animals or their parts are being sold under the pretext that they were raised in captivity, wildlife farming negatively impacts wildlife conservation.’

Information about risks

In order to inform the public about these risks, the NGO organised field visits on wildlife farms for journalists. As a result of these visits, the participating journalists produced media reports and stories to inform the public in Vietnam on the risks of transmission of diseases from wildlife to humans.

PanNature also organised a seminar for researchers, regulators, and journalists on the risk of wildlife farming in the context of zoonotic disease transmission and in terms of economy and wildlife conservation.

Outreach to policy makers and public at large

The seminar proved instrumental to reach out to policy makers. At the seminar, a CITES representative recommended the government to amend regulations regarding wildlife farming in accordance with current situations.

The activities of PanNature this fall contributed to the education of 26 men and 25 women, including 20 journalists about the risks and impacts of infectious diseases in relation to wildlife farming with the case of Covid-19 and also to wildlife conservation. In addition, the seminar and the media outreach helped to get their message across to policy makers and the public at large.

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More articles by: Jan Willem den Besten