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  • Writer's pictureAmelia Ramage

Covid-19 is a Conservation Issue!

It might seem odd to think, but the current Covid-19 (or SARS-CoV-2) pandemic is very much a conservation issue. When you consider the possible zoonotic (animal) transmission mode of the virus, of illegal wildlife trade, then it is not difficult to see the link between the conservation concern and Covid-19.

The origin of Covid-19 is currently unknown and still heavily debated. In February of this year, a paper was released detailing a 99% match with pangolin DNA and the virus. These animals are known as the world’s most trafficked mammal, whose numbers and persistence in the wild is heavily threatened because they are sought after for meat and their scales that is used in eastern medicine. However, this paper has now been reported as a huge and irresponsible miscommunication as it did not relate to the entire genome and other reports have found varying matches between the human virus and pangolins (ranging from 85.5%-92.4%). All of which, have been deemed too low to be the source of the current outbreak. SARS (or SARS-Cov-1), a related virus strain to Covid-19, has a zoonotic origin traced from horseshoe bats, through an intermediary of civets, to humans. There has been a recent publication stating that the bat coronavirus shares 96% of its genetic material with the virus that causes Covid-19. While the jury is still out for the origin of the current outbreak, bats are still being investigated. However, during this time of unknown, it could cause a dangerous and unmerited outcome for pangolins. After the last SARS outbreak, civets were killed en masse. If people were to react the same way towards pangolins due to this miscommunicated association with the current pandemic, their future persistence would be greatly questioned.

While the current pandemic is entirely unprecedented, it might not be the last time we see something like this. Climate change is predicted to increase the current rates at which we see disease crossing the species barrier, due to a myriad of factors.With climate change, we will see an increase in the numbers of suitable habitats for vectors of many diseases such as Ebola and Malaria. An important determinant of vector-borne diseases are its survival and reproduction, of which, occurs at varying climates and temperatures. Thus, a change in global climates can cause such ideal habitats for increased reproduction of certain vectors, ultimately increasing the number of “spillovers” (when a virus jumps from an animal to a human).

Another cause for an increase in disease prevalence due to global environmental change, is deforestation. A 13-year study saw a 10% reduction in the Amazon each year that was correlated with an increase malaria cases per year. This equates to almost 10,000 additional cases each year! The reason for this is due to the fact that the local human population is now encroaching upon mosquito-rich areas, due to the removal of what’s called buffer zones, and also because logging creates an ideal habitat for mosquitoes. Incidences in malaria may also be accompanied by a shift in geographical prevalence. As the climate changes, the local weather ideal for mosquitoes could shift northwards, meaning places such as northern Europe will be at risk of the disease.

As well as temperature, climate change is associated with increase rain, rising sea-levels and flooding. This can also increase the transmission of water-borne diseases, including rainfall increasing the dissemination of infectious agents too. So, rising temperatures isn’t all we have to be concerned with when it comes to pathogen growth, survival and transmission.

Ultimately, we need to respect nature and it’s delicate balance, but also work together to stop climate change.

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