Wildlife, Deforestation and Spread of Zoonotic Diseases

Gautam Kumar Das

In the present findings on forest status for last 30 years by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the area of forest cover is nearly 1/3 of land globally, that’s 4.06 billion hectares area around the world and there is about 0.52 hectare of forest for every person on the planet. FAO published this interactive report containing findings of the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 (FRA 2020) on 10 May, 2020. The statistics clearly reflects that the forest cover is declined globally in comparison to 5.9 billion hectares forest areas of pre-industrial period. As a result of such depletion of forest cover, the wildlife of the forest is at stake. In relation to that cause and effect, scientists reveal that it is a matter of an animal passed the corona virus from wild bats to humans, but when and who, it is not still clear to them. Like wild bats, other wildlife spread pathogens of diseases into the people particularly among the tribal people living around the forest areas.

Gradually the human beings of a particular community generally gaining resistance power and natural cure to those pathogens spread by the wildlife with time results such endemic diseases restricted within the community. Such endemic diseases spread by the pathogens from the wildlife show no more devastation of severe outbreak in the people of that community. But huge deforestation, in the recent time, transmit a message of transmission of pathogens of diseases from the wildlife to the human being other than those of the tribal communities who intrude into the forest areas, i.e. alien to the environment of the forests. Even in West Bengal tree cover loss rose dramatically since the eighties of the last century. A distinct trend of deforestation combined with the small-scale agriculture, is swallowing away at the primary forest frontier. Such activities of deforestation result transmission of diseases, though such instances has not yet been reported in West Bengal or in India as a whole. But globally, United Nations reports that the illegal wildlife trade increases the risks of zoonotic diseases, such as outbreak of corona virus.

It is alarming that many emerging diseases in present days have originated in wildlife, many of which are not enlisted in the illegally-traded wild animals inventory, though illegal wildlife trade flourishes these events too close to wildlife habitats that leads to accelerate the spread of zoonotic diseases. United Nations further adds that the illegal wildlife trade contributes to habitat destruction, which remove necessary buffer zones between people and wildlife, making it more likely that animal pathogens come into contact with human being. Again, wild animals that are imported illegally are also much less likely to be on sale where sanitary standards are being properly enforced, making the transmission of diseases. Call for end of such illegal wildlife import export could decelerate the spread of further disease outbreak through transmission of pathogens from the wildlife.

At present in many countries, the scientists’ time is spent on research into the invention of relationships in between virus, wildlife and forest and transmission of pathogens thereon. Such transmission from wildlife to human being and then from human to human can occur when forest ecosystems are depleted of natural biodiversity. Further researches into the causes of the transmission of pathogens from the wildlife have been still continuing in the European countries and in USA. A former wildlife inspector of the United States said recently that millions of live animals enter the United States each year without disease screening leaving United States vulnerable to another outbreak, e.g. 20000 live bullfrogs from China that will be cooked and eaten as frog legs, 40 green monkeys from St. Kitts and Nevis for biomedical research, 300 giant clams from Vietnam and 30 stingrays from the Brazilian Amazon for home aquariums. Importing any live animals carries with it the risk of disease to native wildlife, to livestock, and to people.

The outbreak of the novel corona virus in China, theorized to have jumped from bats into humans and then spread at a wet market in Wuhan, possible through an intermediate host, has shined a spotlight on how easily zoonotic diseases can emerge from wildlife. Wildlife comprised of different classes of mammals, amphibians, birds, insects, reptiles, spiders, along with such a diversity of wildlife, a number of pathogens is also entering the country. The diseases that simultaneously reprove sharply into the country on imported wildlife continue to grow beyond proper inspection. All these instances prove that forestry and wildlife are so important in this time when the entire world faces the crises for climate change as well as for the corona viruses.

World Agroforestry clearly states their objectives upon the severe pandemic that corona virus is causing underlines the importance of biodiversity of our health and that of the global economy, and need for the human endeavour to live within the safe commencing space of the biosphere. Management of natural assets is certainly a factor for sustainable development. In India, 700 million people depend on forest and agriculture. Healthy forests are becoming even more relevant after COVID-19 and landscape restoration can help farmers. Naturally, we should have the slogans like this - mother loves us, let’s love her back protecting trees, forests, biodiversity, species and ecosystems. And this mother earth is under the corona pandemic and this is no doubt a big crisis globally in the present time. There is certainly ways to face these big crises in the world without feeling overwhelmed and despairing. We, the people can take correct steps towards rebuilding planetary earth by changing the way of restoration of forest and landscape. Nature is giving the ways to combat the causes and consequences of crises when it is either for climate change or for the pandemic of corona viruses.

May 18, 2020

 Gautam Kumar Das

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