Environment & ClimateNews

How has the human destruction of biodiversity resulted in an increase of Zoonotic Diseases & pandemics?

By March 24, 2020 No Comments

Until recently, the media has been filled with climate crisis & climate emergency stories.

‘The planet is on fire’ a repeated message from all quarters & of course in Australia that literally became a reality as bush fires decimated thousands of acres & potentially killed 1bn animals & destroyed wildlife.

However, we are now in the midst of a human crisis, potentially born from a live animal market & despite the fact that the climate crisis is still raging; the human race has turned it’s attention to the COVID 19 pandemic which is sweeping across planet Earth.

As inhabitants of planet Earth, the human species has learnt to evolve into a technologically advanced species, cleverly putting itself at the top of the food chain. As a species which has become progressively more & more globally mobile, ‘humans’ have seen their fair share of global movement related Zoonotic Diseases rage across planet Earth.

The plague of Justinian I was one of the oldest documented pandemics & is believed to have been transmitted to humans by rats on merchant ships. At it’s peak the plague was killing an approximate 10,000 people a day, with an expected 25M people having died cumulatively.

The Ebola outbreak in 2014, originally reported in December 2013, when an 18 month old boy died from an infection being carried by bats. The Ebola outbreak reached seven countries & when two & a half years later the last case was reported; sadly some 11,000 people had already lost their lives. (2)

Scientists have been reporting for many years about their concerns regarding Zoonotic Diseases (also known as zoonoses). Zoonotic Diseases are caused by germs which spread between animals & people & if reports are to be believed, the COVID19 coronavirus has potentially begun by being transmitted from a bat to a human.

Therefore, how is this happening? & why does there seem to be a growing list of epidemics & pandemics where the source is a Zoonotic disease?

Researchers are beginning see the correlation between the human destruction of forests & biodiversity & the spread of Zoonotic Diseases such as SARS, Ebola, Bird Flu & the novel viruses such as COVID19.

Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at UCL, calls emerging animal-borne infectious diseases an “increasing and very significant threat to global health, security and economies”. (3)

In 2008, Jones and a team of researchers identified 335 diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004, at least 60% of which came from animals. (3)

With the calls for recognition of our climate crisis still strewn across media channels & the vast outpouring of expectation from world citizens for Governments & policy makers to act upon the damage it has been causing; we are now asking questions about the needs of the climate having been side lined & now humans are unfortunately seeing the damage the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity is doing.

With the continued logging across vast swathes of the Amazon basin & across planet Earth, indigenous animals have had to migrate to survive & in a lot of cases they have had to adapt to lives where human populations continue to infringe on their natural habitats.

Furthermore, many animals from areas of deforestation have been caught & sold in live markets across the globe, taking with them Zoonotic Disease which can, as has now been seen globally, have a devastating affect on the very species who displaced them in the first place: Humans.

An archived report from the IPCC from as far back as 2007, identified even then the affects of the increases in Zoonotic Disease:

‘The resurgence of infectious diseases in the past few decades, including vector-borne diseases, has resulted primarily from demographic and societal factors—for example, population growth, urbanization, changes in land use and agricultural practices, deforestation, international travel, commerce, human and animal movement, microbial adaptation and change, and breakdown in public health infrastructure’(4)

Therefore, what lessons can we learn from the COVID 19 pandemic? This question will remain open as humans continue to lock down countries, secure their cities & the protect the health & well being of their citizens. Maybe now more than ever, the impact humans have had on Earth’s biodiversity will be recognized & changes will be made.

Written by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2.

  1. https://www.history.com/news/6-devastating-plagues
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/history/2014-2016-outbreak/index.html
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/18/tip-of-the-iceberg-is-our-destruction-of-nature-responsible-for-covid-19-aoe
  4. https://archive.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg2/index.php?idp=358