Coronavirus And The Pangolin Effect.
If we use the theory of the chaos, we get that when a butterfly flaps its wings in New Mexico it’s power causes a hurricane in China. But after the emergence of COVID-19, there is hardly anything of the butterfly effect’s randomness in the dominos that keep falling. The explanation is emerging that how human beings are connected actions which can result in dramatic consequences.
Wildlife And Emerging Infectious Diseases?
The science is not yet conclusive that the SARS-CoV-2 has been originated in wildlife. The question is from where the virus has managed to break the species barrier into humans. Currently, a species of Horseshoe Bat is the principal suspect.
The bat has likely to transmit the virus to an intermediary host, with an early theory of pointing pangolins that the scaly anteater has been illegally traded for their meat and scales which are being used for their apparent medicinal value.
The human contact with the intermediary hosts facilitated the final leap of the pathogen which has caused a pandemic that has spread to over 140 countries, infected more than 300,000 people and caused innumerable losses.
Facilitating The Emergence Of New, Deadly Pathogens.
The origin and the pathway of the coronavirus pandemic shouldn’t surprise us. In 2003 a SARS epidemic has been jumped to humans from civet cats which are sold in the markets as the pets and as a delicacy. MERS had been transmitted to humans from camels in 2012. Avian influenza, Nipah Virus, Ebola, HIV, all of these have been originated in the animals and were later transmitted to humans, this phenomenon is called a zoonosis.
It is believed that over 60% of all the Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) worldwide are zoonosis, and within the zoonosis, a great majority has been originated in the wildlife.
The coronavirus outbreak shows that zoonoses have been originated from the wildlife pose too huge public health, biosafety, and even global security risks. The potential Pangolin Effect denotes the unavoidable, disproportionate ending of an avoidable, relatively modest beginning: a virus, present on a natural host in the wild, causes a pandemic by taking advantage of a large chain of interconnected events able to spread it globally.
The first reason can be increased exposure. We are substantially increasing our exposure to pathogens we have never been exposed to, by anthropogenic activities. This further leads us to lack in the preparedness of responding. We are doing so in two major ways which are: bringing wildlife to close to us, or us getting too close to wildlife.
The second reason can be the concept of globalization; the moment a person gets infected by these pathogens, it spread to others and make others infected, then it leads to travel of this virus through flights, cruises and global value chains, transport those infected individuals all over the world.
Bringing Wildlife to Close to us and the wildlife trade
The illegal wildlife trade in estimated to be at fourth place in illegal crime after drug trafficking, counterfeits, and human trafficking. The CITES convention regulates the legal wildlife trade. But its objective is to ensure that the trade does not harm wildlife survival.
Both types of trade are acting as large transporters, transporting wildlife and their pathogens worldwide, intensifying the contact with human beings and thus, increasing the chances of transmission.
It is likely the illegal trade through which the COVID-infected animals were forced into contact with humans because if at the final stage the pangolins are confirmed as the intermediary host, then it will be an ironic twist, as the pangolins are one of the most traded mammals worldwide, with all other eight known species in the red list of IUCN of threatened species, three out which are classified as critically endangered.
The traded wildlife is sold in the world market for food, for parts, as pets, for traditional medicinal uses, and for various other uses.
Wildlife consumption and their uses are traditional practices in many parts of the world. As China recently demonstrated a swift ban of all wildlife trade and for consumption, this forcefully limits human exposure to wildlife in a fundamental step to prevent the emergence of new EIDs.
Few steps like improving hygienic conditions along the entire legal wildlife trade chain and imposing strict and safe conditions for its sale and consumption are the key. Many countries usually lack such elements, they have the well advanced veterinary services for livestock but practices for inspection of wildlife are not fully developed and integrated.
Getting Too Close To Wildlife — Habitat Degradation
Many of us are less familiar with a service which biodiversity provides a key service, disease regulation. The natural biodiversity limits the exposure and impact of many pathogens by a process of dilution and buffering. Thus, it minimizes the opportunities for pathogens to spill over to humans.
There are some ecological, behavioral and socioeconomic factors like deforestation and land-use change, habitat fragmentation, encroachment, rapid population growth and urbanization, these factors amplify human exposure and multiply chances of contagion.
There is another addition also, Climate change, it is a known driver of EIDs and creating new opportunities for pathogens, accelerating the appearance of invasive species and displacing the range where natural species used to occur.
Researches get great help form all these drivers to determine hotspots of zoonotic EID risks, and findings show that the risk is elevated in forested tropical regions experiencing land-use changes and where wildlife biodiversity is high. Southeast Asia and China are also well-known hotspots.
The anthropogenic activities are eliminating the buffering effect that biodiversity and ecosystems provide, thus increasing the risk of the next pandemic.
Plenty of EID-related attention and expenditure are being devoted to the human part of the equation, greater attention is being given to the halting of main drivers which causes EIDs in the first place. One Health has approached to recognize that human and animal health are interdependent and bound to the health of the ecosystems in which they exist.
The recent announcement by the world bank says that US$12 billion for COVID-19 country responses give us the chance to build a comprehensive package of action which includes human, animal and environmental health.
Also, they said that they should engage the ministers of the environment and natural resources, wildlife departments, research institutions, NGOs, and the civil society addresses the gaps on wildlife health surveillance and disease emergence, wildlife trade veterinary practices, hygienic regulations, wildlife trade policies and practices, and effective communication of the risks.
Human and animal health are interdependent and bound to the health of the ecosystems in which they exist.
The coronavirus is spreading continuously, so the promotion of environmental health is very important and the activities which limit human exposure to wildlife are more urgent now. we can prevent the next Pangolin Effect if we curb the illegal wildlife trade and better regulating legal trade, improving biodiversity and habitat conservation and maintaining robust ecosystem services. The window of opportunity is both wide open, and short-lived.
Also See: How Coronavirus Has Impacted Tech?