COVID-19 and wildlife conservation in Asia

Many diseases, such as the one resulting from COVID-19, have crossed the barrier from animals to humans, with serious consequences. Together with members of the Society for Conservation Biology – Asia Section, we published a commentary in Trends in Ecology & Evolution where we highlight that epidemics originating from animal hosts are inevitable unless urgent actions to protect the environment and decrease the interface wildlife-domestic animals-humans are taken.

Currently, wildlife trade, degradation of natural habitats, and the interaction and interface between humans and wildlife leads to zoonoses such as coronavirus disease 2019. A shift away from the current practices through enhanced and proactive regulation of trade and reduction in environmental degradation would decrease the risk of zoonoses and benefit environmental conservation. Abbreviations: EIA, Environmental impact assessment. We are grateful to Benjamin Michael Marshall for help with the figure.

In the last thirty years, the majority of human pathogens which have caused substantial damage to human health and economies have originated from wildlife or livestock. Such diseases include Ebola, AIDS and SARS. COVID-19 is among the latest of these zoonotic diseases and resulted in a pandemic that has caused more than a million deaths worldwide.

Two primary factors that facilitate such outbreaks are wildlife trade and loss of natural habitat, both of which increase the frequency and potential for direct contact between humans and wildlife. Animals in wildlife markets are often housed in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that create the perfect environment for pathogens to jump to humans. In addition, natural habitats are being cleared to meet the growing demands of an increasing human population, which puts livestock and people in closer contact with the wild hosts of potential zoonotic pathogens. Addressing these two factors will help prevent future zoonotic diseases.

In order to protect against future pandemics, we call for governments to establish effective legislation addressing wildlife trade, protection of habitats and reduction of interaction between people, wildlife and livestock.

You can find the final publication here, and a nice press release here.

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