In their Letter 'Global trends in emerging infectious diseases' (Nature 451, 990–993; 2008), Kate Jones and colleagues reveal that emerging human infectious diseases are becoming globally more prevalent, particularly those originating from wildlife. Even when cases of all other transmission types started to decrease during 1990–2000 compared with previous decades, cases of wildlife-associated human diseases continued their upward trend. The authors highlight the implications for conservation, advocating more monitoring and preservation of areas rich in biodiversity to counter it.
They do not mention the social and psychological effect this proliferation of wildlife-associated zoonoses could have. Such diseases are widely perceived as a threat to humans (see, for example, W. D. Newmark et al. Biol. Conserv. 63, 177–183; 1993). Negative interactions with wildlife tend to stifle support for conservation policies and initiatives. The increasing prevalence of such diseases could stand in the way of the very conservation initiatives that Jones and colleagues are recommending to protect human health.
Widespread disease in wildlife populations could encourage humans to view wild animals as pests, instead of as resources to be protected and enjoyed. Risk-perception research on wildlife-associated zoonoses would confirm the extent to which this shift has occurred. Such research would also identify gaps between the public's attitudes and epidemiological assessments, and would help to gauge the extent of public support for different proactive management plans. This would enable wildlife managers to decide which plans would be the most politically and socially viable, as well as the best ways to inform the public about them.