By David Western, Conservationist — Nairobi, Kenya — March 30, 2020
The coronavirus poses the greatest risk to human health around the world since the Spanish flu of 1918. The pandemic is already disrupting every sector of society, from entertainment and sports to manufacturing and the health and service industries. And the worst is yet to come.
Conservationists blame the pandemic on the loss of biodiversity degraded ecosystems and climate change. They have a point. New virulent diseases, along with invasive species and pests, thrive when nature dies.
In the case of the coronavirus the blame lies squarely on the illegal trade in wildlife species, fueled by globalization. Diseases such as Ebola, Marburg and HIV erupted in small scattered communities in the past but remained localized epidemics. No longer.
In the last few decades, global travel has spawned virulent novel viruses such as SARS, MERS, H1N1 and COVID-19, infecting hundreds of millions around the world in weeks. These new pandemics are a grave threat to every nation, every individual. causing 6 of 10 infectious diseases, 2.5 billion illnesses and 2.7 million deaths each year.
The wildlife trade, worth $23 billion annually, operates largely underground like drug trafficking. And like the ivory wars which slashed elephant numbers across Africa from 1.2 million in 1970 to 450,000 today, the wildlife trade is driven by rising wealth in Asia. Hundreds of species of amphibians, snakes, fish, birds and mammals are butchered for the wildlife trade, among them bats, civets and pangolins suspected of transmitting lethal viruses.
We can’t be sure which species in the wildlife market in Wuhan sparked the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless, the cramped confined conditions flouting concerns for animal welfare and human health, have unleashed the most devastating pandemic in modern times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been dubbed the revenge of wildlife. Revenge it isn’t. Coronavirus smites indiscriminately. For every illegal trader infected, hundreds of millions of people are at risk, among them ardent animal lovers, doctors and nurses. Overlooked is the impact of the pandemic on wildlife.
Here’s why, and what you can do about it.