Jane Goodall: COVID-19 Is a Product of Our Unhealthy Relationship With Animals and the Environment
By Jane Goodall
The world is facing unprecedented challenges. At the time of writing, the coronavirus COVID-19 has infected over 3.57 million people globally and as of the 4th of May 250,134 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
At present, people in most countries around the world are self-isolating at home (either alone or with family), keeping social distance and reducing going outdoors to a minimum. Some businesses have totally closed down, some carry on with staff working from home, some people are temporarily laid off, and thousands of people around the world have lost their jobs. Already the economic cost of all this is catastrophic.
We all follow the news and pray that the lockdown will end in country after country as the peak infection and death rate is reached and then gradually drops. This has already happened in China, where the COVID-19 coronavirus originated, thanks to the stringent measures undertaken by the Chinese government. We hope that a vaccine will soon be developed and that we can gradually get back to normal. But we must never forget what we have been through and we must take the necessary steps to prevent another such pandemic in the future.
The tragedy is that a pandemic of this sort has long been predicted by those studying zoonotic diseases (those that, like COVID-19, spill over from animals into humans). It is almost certain that this pandemic started with such a spill over in China's Wuhan seafood market that also sold terrestrial wildlife for food, along with chickens and fish.
Zoonotic Disease Transmission in Markets
When wild animals are sold in such markets, often illegally, they are typically kept in small cages, crowded together, and often slaughtered on the spot. Humans, both vendors and customers, may thus be contaminated with the fecal material, urine, blood and other bodily fluids of a large variety of species – such as civets, pangolins, bats, raccoon dogs and snakes. This provides a perfect environment for viruses to spill over from their animal hosts into humans. Another zoonotic disease, SARS, originated in another wildlife market in Guangdong.
Most wet markets in Asia are not dissimilar to farmers' markets in Europe and the US. There are thousands of wet markets in Asia and around the world where fresh produce – vegetables and fruit, and sometimes also meat from domestic animals – are sold at reasonable prices. And thousands of people shop there rather than in supermarkets.
It is not only in China that wildlife markets have provided the ideal conditions for viruses and other pathogens to cross the species barrier and transfer from animal hosts to us. There are markets of this sort in many Asian countries. In the bushmeat markets of Africa – where live and dead animals are sold for food – the hunting, slaughtering and selling of chimpanzees for food led to two spill overs from ape to human that resulted in the HIV-AIDS pandemic. Ebola is another zoonotic disease which crosses from animal reservoirs into apes and humans in different parts of Africa.
Wildlife Trafficking and the Spread of Disease
Another major concern is the trafficking of wild animals and their body parts around the world. Unfortunately, this has become a highly lucrative multi-billion-dollar business, often run by criminal cartels. Not only is it very cruel and definitely contributing to the terrifying extinction of species, but it may also lead to conditions suitable for the emergence of zoonotic diseases. Wild animals or their parts exported, often illegally, from one country to another take their viruses with them.
The shocking pet trade in young wild monkeys and apes, birds, reptiles and other wild animals is another area of concern. A bite or scratch from a wild animal taken into the home could lead to something much more serious than a mild infection.
Once COVID-19 was recognized as a new zoonotic disease, the Chinese authorities imposed a ban on the selling and eating of wild animals, the Wuhan wildlife market was closed down, and the farming of wild animals for food was forbidden.
There are thousands of small operations throughout Asia and other parts of the world where wild animals are bred for food as a way of making a living in rural areas. Unless alternative sources of income for these people, as well as for others exploiting wildlife to make a living, can be found and they can get help from their governments during their transition to other ways of making money, it is likely that these operations will be driven underground and become even more difficult to regulate.
Nevertheless, whatever the problems, it is clearly of great importance that the ban on trading, eating and breeding of wild animals for food should be permanent and enforced – for the sake of human health and the prevention of other pandemics in the future. Fortunately, a majority of Chinese and other Asian citizens who responded to surveys agree that wildlife should not be consumed, used in medicine or for their fur.
Medicinal Products Loopholes and Bear Bile
The use of some wild animal products for traditional medicine is thus far still legal in China (though rhino horn and tiger bones are banned). And this creates a loophole that will be quickly seized on by those wanting to continue to trade in wild animals such as the highly endangered pangolin, rhinos, tigers and the Asiatic black bear, known commonly as the Moon Bear because of the crescent-shaped white marking on its chest.
Other Asian bears – brown bears and Sun bears – are also exploited for their bile. And so long as farming bears for their bile is legal, and products containing their bile is promoted, this will stimulate the demand for the bile.
It is important to consider the welfare of the animals who are unwittingly responsible for zoonotic diseases. Today we know that all the animals mentioned are sentient beings, capable of knowing fear, despair and pain. Moreover, many of them demonstrate extraordinary intelligence. Allowing the use of wildlife trading for medicinal purposes can lead to unbelievably inhumane treatment of some of these sentient beings.
This is most certainly the case, for example, with bears farmed for their bile in Asia. They may be kept for up to thirty years in extremely small cages – sometimes they cannot even stand up or turn around. The tiny cages prohibit all natural behavior for these intelligent and sentient animals, who endure a life of fear and suffering.
The bile is usually extracted, once or even twice a day, by inserting a catheter, pipe or syringe into the gall bladder, – a highly intrusive and painful procedure. The bears suffer from dehydration, starvation and a variety of infections and diseases. They develop liver cancer (caused by the bile extraction), tumors, ulcers, blindness, peritonitis, arthritis and other ailments. Their teeth are worn down or missing from continually, in desperation, gnawing at the bars that imprison them.
Not only is farming bears in this way extremely cruel, it is also of concern for public health reasons. Poor hygienic conditions, the permanent open wounds of the bears, contamination of bile with feces, bacteria, blood and other bodily fluids are reasons for serious concern. Finally, many of the bears are continuously given antibiotics to keep them alive and this contributes to antibiotic resistance and the emergence of superbugs, resistant to most known antibiotics. The same is true with the raising of domestic animals in factory farms. These superbugs have led to the death of many patients in hospitals around the world.
Unfortunately, Tan Re Qing, a product that contains bile taken from Asiatic black bears and said to be helpful in alleviating symptoms linked to respiratory infections, is being recommended as a treatment for patients infected with COVID-19. And this will encourage the continued practice of bear bile farming.
To end on a note of hope, the active component of bear bile, ursodeoxycholic acid or UDCA, has been available as a synthetic variant for many years, and is a fraction of the cost of bile inhumanely harvested from bears. Unfortunately many people consider bile from wild bears to be more valuable. Traditional Chinese Medicine has great value but, even if the bile from wild bears was a valuable drug, given the cruelty and the risk involved, it should no longer be used – especially as the synthetic product has the same properties. In fact, a survey conducted by Animals Asia in 2011 indicated that 87% of Chinese respondents were in favor of banning bear bile farming, and hundreds of Chinese pharmacies have pledged never to sell bear bile products.
It would be wonderful if all bear bile farms across Asia could be closed and the bears released into those sanctuaries which have been created in China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Laos. There they would be able to walk on grass, climb, bathe in ponds and enjoy the sunshine and the company of other rescued bears. And a decrease in the demand for pangolin scales and rhino horn in many Asian countries for their supposed medicinal value would give a chance for these highly endangered animals to survive into the future. As would a ban on the farming of wild animals for their fur.
Disease Originating from Factory Farming
It is not only from wild animals that zoonotic diseases have originated. The inhumane conditions of the great factory farms, where large numbers of domestic animals are crowded together, has also provided conditions conducive to viruses spilling over into humans. The diseases commonly known as 'bird flu' and 'swine flu' resulted from handling poultry and pigs. And domestic animals are also sentient beings who experience fear and pain. MERS originated from contact with domestic dromedary camels in the Middle East, perhaps from consuming products from infected camels such as undercooked meat or milk.
Scientists warn that if we continue to ignore the causes of these zoonotic diseases, we may be infected with viruses that cause pandemics even more disruptive than COVID-19.
Many people believe that we have come to a turning point in our relationship with the natural world. We need to halt deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats around the globe. We need to make use of existing nature-friendly, organic alternatives, and develop new ones, to feed ourselves and to maintain our health. We need to eliminate poverty so that people can find alternative ways to make a living other than by hunting and selling wild animals and destroying the environment. We need to assure that local people, whose lives directly depend on and are impacted by the health of the environment, own and drive good conservation decisions in their own communities as they work to improve their lives. Finally, we need to connect our brains with our hearts and appropriately use our indigenous knowledge, science and innovative technologies to make wiser decisions about people, animals and our shared environment.
While there is a justified focus on bringing COVID-19 under control, we must not forget the crisis with potentially long-term catastrophic effects on the planet and future generations – the climate crisis. The movement calling for industry and governments to impose restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases, to protect forests, and clean up the oceans, has been growing.
This pandemic has forced industry to temporarily shut down in many parts of the world. As a result, many people have for the first time experienced the pleasure of breathing clean air and seeing the stars in the night sky.
My hope is that an understanding of how the world should be, along with the realization that it is our disrespect of the natural world that has led to the current pandemic, will encourage businesses and governments to put more resources into developing clean, renewable energy, alleviate poverty and help people find alternative ways of making a living that do not involve the exploitation of nature and animals.
Let us realize we are part of, and depend upon, the natural world for food, water and clean air. Let us recognize that the health of people, animals and the environment are connected. Let us show respect for each other, for the other sentient animals, and for Mother Nature. For the sake of the wellbeing of our children and theirs, and for the health of this beautiful planet Earth, our only home.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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