Whether we like it or not, the creatures we share with the planet are tied to us. The virus, SARS-CoV-2 sprang from the commercial wildlife trade that acknowledges the relationship. We can exploit nature, but serious repercussions follow for our species. We influence wildlife from the lowly rats of New York to the elephants of Zimbabwe. That mutual influence became obvious last spring when humanity hunkered down and the animal world noted our absence. The effect of the pandemic on human-habituated animals raises questions about where we should draw the line in our interactions.
The pandemic exemplifies the direct link between human health and ecological health, something experts have known and warned about for decades. Scientists agree that the virus originated in an animal, most likely a horseshoe bat, before the jump to humans. A scaly anteater might also have been involved. Whatever the animal origin, China’s extensive wildlife trade likely brought the virus in contact with a wet market in Wuhan where public experts think SARS-CoV-2 first spread. The samples collected came back positive for the virus in that section that sold wild animals. The country is one of the world’s largest market for wildlife.
So when the news broke out that the trade had unleashed another disease, a widespread backlash ensued. The Chinese government enacted a temporary nationwide ban on the consumption of terrestrial wildlife. Legal loopholes still abound for wild animals used for traditional medicine. And get this- the government continues to promote bear bile as a treatment for COVID-19! The country did remove the scaly anteater from its official pharmacopoeia ,yet did not outright ban their use and still lists the scales in certain concoctions. The changes we are seeing today in all likelihood will revert back with normalization. Exotic animal markets in other nations with a busy wildlife trade and a high potential for disease transmission remain open. Few countries have enacted new wildlife laws including the the US.
The pandemic could usher in improvements how we treat animals and our planet. If we opted to preserve rather than destroy biodiversity, we could lessen the risk of unleashing the next pandemic, one that could kill most of the people. If you think COVID-19 is bad, just wait for COVID-21. Unless we act quickly, our old destructive ways will come back like NY rats. And I’m sorry, but why hasn’t the governor of NY exterminated the rat problem?