Protect wildlife now to protect us from future pandemics

A new paper published in Biodiversity and Conservation by biodiversity experts from the Tomsk State University (TSU) in Russia and the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research (KLU) in Austria suggests that this pandemic situation requests a correct understanding of our impacts on wildlife conservation, which would also provide benefits for our species.

In their commentary, the biologists Roberto Cazzolla Gatti and Manfredo Turcios-Casco discussed some of the repercussions that SARS-CoV-2 pandemic may have to wildlife. They propose four very relevant actions that should be taken into account to protect and conserve wildlife in this pandemic era.

According to their four urgent initiative that policy-makers need to make concrete, wildlife “wet” markets must close, human interference with wildlife must be reduced, bats and pangolins must be conserved and not blamed, and Chinese traditional medicine must be more controlled.

“What we propose – said Prof. Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, associate professor at the TSU in Russia and Research Fellow at the KLI in Austria – are undelayable measures that could ensure an immediate benefit to endangered wildlife and could represent a future insurance against new pandemics and zoonosis”.

(Photo credits: Roberto Cazzolla Gatti ©)

“Bats and pangolins, – continues Prof. Cazzolla Gatti – although cryptic, are among the most poached and illegally sold animals in the world. Apart from being threatened by several other anthropogenic activities, together with many other wild animals and plants, bats and pangolins are employed in traditional medicines. Recently these animals have been blamed to be responsible of pandemics, while the opposite is true: human exploitation of wildlife and environment triggers the emergence of zoonosis”.

Animals host pathogens that in normal conditions are rarely transmitted to humans. But, the abuses perpetrated on the environment at a global scale such as wildlife poaching and trade, deforestation, wildfires, climate change, overfishing, etc. increase the likelihood of interspecies transmission.

“The identification of the possible origin and hosts of this new coronavirus has seemingly fostered ancestral fear towards bats and pangolins from the public opinion and even their worldwide mass culling or eradication was claimed – write scientists in their paper – However, when we see what happens in the streets where the market takes place in Wuhan and other so called “wet” markets in Asia, where customers walk through animal waste and blood, it is not hard to understand how deadly viruses can easily pass from one species to another. There is ample occasion for spillover due to the mixture of dogs, cats, snakes, raccoons, genets, chickens, pigs, bats, pangolins, fish of all types and sizes. Indifferent, but not oblivious, buyers stroll in front of piles of tiny cages where animals wait for hours, often for days, for their death sentence.”

The authors speaks up that “the unhygienic, mixed-species markets that sell alive and dead animals, often captured illegally from their natural habitats, and that are linked to most of the recent zoonotic epidemics must close after the enactment of international agreements” and that “any impact that our species has on wildlife must be halted” including the practices of the Chinese traditional medicine that employ endangered species and threatened animals and plant.

“We argue in our paper – concluded Prof. Roberto Cazzolla Gatti – that in this pandemic era, international agencies must increase the protection of species in their habitats, enforce legislation and control of local and international wildlife trade. At the same time, international sanctions should be started if Asian authorities will not effectively patrol and punish the exploitation of wildlife and endangered species covered by the excuse of traditional medicine”.

Original paper: Turcios-Casco, M. A., & Cazzolla Gatti, R. (2020). Do not blame bats and pangolins! Global consequences for wildlife conservation after the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Biodiversity and Conservation, 29(13), 3829-3833.

Press Office, Tomsk State University, Russia

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