Approximately 70% of all human pathogens are originated from animals. They are termed “zoonotic” as they are somewhere linked to animals, and COVID-19 is one of them. The reason why COVID-19 is spreading to the whole world has some links to human activities. Most of these activities destroy natural habitats, affect diversity and bring humans and animals closer to each other, as the new study shows.
This study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, as “ Global shifts in mammalian population trends reveal key predictors of virus spillover risk”.
Deforestation, illegal hunting, polluting the natural habitat and an urbanized cultural shift has caused a huge biodiversity loss, making many animal and plant species extinct.
The US research centers have investigated more than 140 pathogenic viruses that are originated from animals. They cross-referenced these viral strains with the Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
More than 75% of these viruses at any place were linked with animals, mostly bats, and rodents. But this risk of the animal to human transmission is highest when it is endangered, or affected by human activities i.e. deforestation, over-consumption, etc.
Christine Johnson from the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California is the lead author of this research paper. As to her; “Our data highlight how exploitation of wildlife and destruction of natural habitat, in particular, underlie disease spillover events, putting us at risk for emerging infectious diseases,”
In 2019, the United Nations biodiversity group discussed the loss of biodiversity due to human activities which might cause a million species to go extinct. They assessed that 75% of continental and 40% water-based habitat is severely damaged by human activities.
One major human activity is deforestation which directly affects the wild animals and plant species, forcing them to mutate as per these changes or go extinct. In a way, wild animals are forced to get closer to humans which increases the transmission of many deadly infections such as the new COVID-19.
Johnson said; “We alter the landscape through deforestation, conversion of land for growing crops or raising livestock, or building up communities. This also increases the frequency and intensity of contact between humans and wildlife –- creating the perfect conditions for virus spillover.”
The wildlife experts are trying to find the species which were responsible for COVID-19 virus transmission to humans. They are suspecting pangolins and bats in China for this transmission as it emerged from Wuhan, a city of China.
Some of these researchers have urged an international ban on wildlife business considering the damages and deaths caused by the coronavirus in the last few months. Greenpeace, a non-governmental organization working on environmental causes has urged the European Union to induce an international ban on wildlife trade, for protecting human health and biodiversity loss as well. Working since 1971, Greenpeace is operating in 55 countries and it is taking an account for global public health and environmental safety.
Johnson shares; “Once we move past this public health emergency, we hope policy-makers can focus on pandemic preparedness and prevention of zoonotic disease risk, especially when developing environmental, land management, and animal resource policies.”
In February, 2020, China banned the trade and consumption of all wild species in order to control the spread of COVID-19, as it emerged from a seafood market of Wuhan.