COVID-19 and Wildlife Trade


There is yet another problem with human activities. Besides our disruption of natural places like forests, we bring in animals, often strange animals, into our cities and towns and put them together when they have never been together before. and they have never been together with us. Sometimes species jump from one species to another and then to humans, with devastating effect. As I learned from listening to David Quammen on National Public Radio often the route to us is through an intermediary species. This is a particular problem in Asia with something I have seen—wet markets.

 These are informal markets that have sprung up in part because people in Asia often lack refrigerators or distrust them. I don’t want to demonize them. People in Asia need them. There animals are slaughtered, cut up and sold on the spot and then hung up. Or sometimes they are kept alive until the buyer arrives and wants one killed. In Asia people believe in fresh, not refrigeration. As they are hanging they often defecate on the other species below them. This is how a petri dish for pathogens is inadvertently created. Again as a result of humans who recklessly don’t care what they do to other species. Apparently there was a wet market in Wuhan where the coronavirus was first discovered to have infected humans. 

As Thomas Gillespie Professor of environmental sciences at Emory University said, “Wet markets make a perfect storm for cross-species transmission of pathogens. Whenever you have novel interactions with a range of species in one place, whether that is in a natural environment like a forest or a wet market, you can have a spillover event.”

The wet market in Wuhan sold numerous wild animals including wolf pups, salamanders, crocodiles, scorpions, rats, squirrels, foxes, civets and turtles and many others. To us those seem like very exotic creatures. To Asians not so much. In Africa they add monkeys, bats, rats, and dozens of bird species as well as other mammals, insects and rodents. It is all a matter of what you are accustomed to.

Scientist Kate Jones also said “The wet market in Lagos is notorious. It’s like a nuclear bomb waiting to happen. But it’s not fair to demonise places that do not have fridges. These traditional markets provide much of the food for Africa and Asia.” Others say that wild animal trade is a much bigger problem.

Pogo was right: I found the enemy and the enemy is us!

The bottom line, according to Brian Bird, a research virologist at the University of California is that we must be prepared. As he said, “We can’t predict where the next pandemic will come from, so we need mitigation plans to take into account the worst possible scenarios, the only certain thing is that the next one will certainly come.” We should not be cutting back on research and preparedness as the Americans did recently. We should be expanding our preparedness.

My point is simply that all of this points to careless human activities. Too many people just don’t care how we interact with other species. After all we are the lords of the earth. Aren’t we? That is the attitude that has got us into trouble. We need a new attitude to nature. One that is more respectful, more modest.

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