Wildlife trade plays pivotal role in animal to human transmission of bacteria, virus: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on November 18, 2020

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Calls for govts to bring effective legislation addressing wildlife trade, protection of habitats, and reduction of interaction between people, wildlife, and livestock

An international research team, including researchers from the University of Göttingen, believes that more epidemics resulting from animal hosts are inevitable unless urgent action is taken.

In order to protect against future pandemics which might be even more serious, they call for governments to establish effective legislation addressing wildlife trade, protection of habitats, and reduction of interaction between people, wildlife, and livestock. Their review was published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

An infectious disease caused by a pathogen, such as a bacterium, virus, or parasite, that has jumped from an animal to a human is known as “zoonosis”. Such diseases include Ebola, AIDS, and SARS. Covid-19 is among the latest of these zoonotic diseases and is currently a pandemic that has resulted in more than a million deaths worldwide, the review noted.

Also read: Future pandemics will be more lethal, more damaging, take more lives than Covid-19: Experts

The researchers further stated that the two primary factors that facilitate such outbreaks are wildlife trade and fragmentation of natural habitat, both of which increase the frequency and potential for direct contact between humans and wildlife.

The researchers explained that animals in wildlife markets are often housed in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that create the perfect environment for pathogens to jump to humans.

Notably, 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 potentially zoonotic pathogens.

The authors of the review study believe that addressing these two factors could help prevent future zoonotic diseases.

The authors, however, advise against a sudden blanket ban on wildlife markets as this will have a disproportionately high negative impact on disadvantaged, migrant, and rural populations that depend on such markets for their subsistence.

Also read: Wildlife trade in China likely triggered coronavirus spillover event: Study

They urged the governments to create and maintain alternative means of subsistence before appropriate bans.

“The coronavirus pandemic has inevitably focused our energy on managing the disease. But in order to prevent the next outbreak ― whatever form that might take ― there needs to be the recognition that people’s relationship with the natural world must change,” explained co-author Dr Trishna Dutta, University of Göttingen, Department of Wildlife Sciences.

She added: “There needs to be urgent action to regulate the trade of wildlife and reduce consumer demand for wildlife parts and products. This should be done in tandem with protecting native ecosystems and reducing the wildlife-livestock-human interface which originally sparked this pandemic.”

The review was published on the official website of the University of Gottingen.

Published on November 18, 2020

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