Early detection of disease outbreaks in human and animal populations is crucial to the effective surveillance of emerging infectious diseases. However, there are marked geographical disparities in capacity for early detection of outbreaks, which limit the effectiveness of global surveillance strategies. Linking surveillance approaches for emerging and neglected endemic zoonoses, with a renewed focus on existing disease problems in developing countries, has the potential to overcome several limitations and to achieve additional health benefits. Poor reporting is a major constraint to the surveillance of both emerging and endemic zoonoses, and several important barriers to reporting can be identified: (i) a lack of tangible benefits when reports are made; (ii) a lack of capacity to enforce regulations; (iii) poor communication among communities, institutions and sectors; and (iv) complexities of the international regulatory environment. Redirecting surveillance efforts to focus on endemic zoonoses in developing countries offers a pragmatic approach that overcomes some of these barriers and provides support in regions where surveillance capacity is currently weakest. In addition, this approach addresses immediate health and development problems, and provides an equitable and sustainable mechanism for building the culture of surveillance and the core capacities that are needed for all zoonotic pathogens, including emerging disease threats.