NEW YORK (April 14, 2010)—The Wildlife Conservation Society is working with partners on a study to prevent deadly diseases from entering New York through the illegal trade of such wildlife as apes, monkeys, and rodents.

The study—focusing on detecting pathogens in wildlife products entering the New York City area—will be discussed by Dr. Kristine Smith of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Global Health Program at “Wildlife Conservation and Human Health,” the latest symposium in the WCS Fairfield Osborn Memorial Lecture series on Wednesday, April 14 at Rockefeller University.

The Wildlife Conservation Society helped launch the pilot study in New York City in 2008 and is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“This project is part of WCS’s ‘One World One Health’ initiative, which addresses the health needs of humans and wildlife locally and globally,” said Dr. Steven Sanderson, president and CEO of WCS. “WCS has pioneered the practice of helping governments around the world find potential human public health threats by monitoring and caring for wildlife populations in their habitats.”

Dr. Smith also serves as the chair of the New York Bushmeat and Health Committee, a subcommittee of the New York Department of Health’s Animal Working Group.

Since the New York City project’s inception, inspection officials and health experts have taken hundreds of samples of wildlife and wildlife products coming through luggage and mail parcels through main entry points for both people and goods into New York City and the United States.  Project participants have collected several hundred samples from at least 14 species, including great apes, monkeys, rodents, and bats.

While analysis of the samples is in its early stages, preliminary results have revealed evidence of two strains of simian foamy virus in wildlife imported as food—known as “bushmeat”—from three species of primate: two mangabeys and a chimpanzee (all three of which are endangered). Non-human primate samples have also been tested for flavivirus and filovirus thus far.

The detected viruses have been found to infect humans but have yet to cause known disease. The movement of illegal wildlife and the diseases they carry through national entry points highlights the health threat that needs to be monitored and prevented. More than 70 percent of zoonoses (diseases that affect both animals and humans) stem from human contact with wildlife.  

“The movement and mixing of humans, wildlife, and domestic animals as part of the illegal global wildlife trade encourages transmission of disease and emergence of novel pathogens,” said Dr. William Karesh of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Global Health Program. “Our pilot project, still in its early stages, will help identify whether pathogens are entering the U.S. via bushmeat and other illegal wildlife.” 

“This is the type of interagency cooperation that’s needed to protect the public from possible diseases that may be entering the country,” said WCS’s Dr. Smith.

Investigators at WCS assert that such detection efforts are a critical component of national security, primarily because the United States is the world’s leading consumer of imported wildlife and wildlife products. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reported that during 2000-2004, more than one billion individual animals were imported into the United States, along with an additional five million kilograms of bushmeat and other animal products.

Diseases of wildlife origin that have impacted public health through the consumption or trade of wild animals include monkey pox, SARS, HIV/AIDS (stemming from human infection with simian immunodeficiency virus), and others.

In addition to health implications, disease risks from the wildlife trade have had enormous economic impacts as well. The SARS outbreak of 2003—associated with trade in small carnivores and ultimately traced to bats —cost the international community an estimated $40-50 billion dollars in reactive health measures, declines in travel and commerce, and other cascading economic factors.

The WCS forum where Dr. Smith will further discuss the project and the organization’s work to stop zoonotic diseases from entering the United States is open to the media.

John Delaney  (1-718-220-3275;
Stephen Sautner (1-718-220-3682;
Mary Dixon (1-347-840-1242;

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

Special Note to the Media: If you would like to guide your readers or viewers to a web link where they can make donations in support of helping save wildlife and wild places, please direct them to: