Nearly 75% of all emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) that impact or threaten human health are zoonotic. The majority have spilled from wildlife reservoirs, either directly to humans or via domestic animals. The emergence of many can be attributed to predisposing factors such as global travel, trade, agricultural expansion, deforestation/habitat fragmentation, and urbanization; such factors increase the interface and/or the rate of contact between human, domestic animal, and wildlife populations, thereby creating increased opportunities for spillover events to occur. Infectious disease emergence can be regarded as primarily an ecological process. The epidemiological investigation of EIDs associated with wildlife requires a trans-disciplinary approach that includes an understanding of the ecology of the wildlife species, and an understanding of human behaviours that increase risk of exposure. Investigations of the emergence of Nipah virus in Malaysia in 1999 and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China in 2003 provide useful case studies. The emergence of Nipah virus was associated with the increased size and density of commercial pig farms and their encroachment into forested areas. The movement of pigs for sale and slaughter in turn led to the rapid spread of infection to southern peninsular Malaysia, where the high-density, largely urban pig populations facilitated transmission to humans. Identifying the factors associated with the emergence of SARS in southern China requires an understanding of the ecology of infection both in the natural reservoir and in secondary market reservoir species. A necessary extension of understanding the ecology of the reservoir is an understanding of the trade, and of the social and cultural context of wildlife consumption. Emerging infectious diseases originating from wildlife populations will continue to threaten public health. Mitigating and managing the risk requires an appreciation of the connectedness between human, livestock and wildlife health, and of the factors and processes that disrupt the balance.