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This virus is not the last: scientists warned of new pandemics due to animals

The coronavirus pandemic, which has already claimed the lives of more than 75 thousand people in the world, should force people to abandon the wildlife trade, which not only leads to the extinction of species, but also contributes to the spread of disease, scientists say. Writes about it with the BBC.

Photo: Shutterstock

The outbreak of a deadly infection began, as you know, in the Chinese seafood market in Wuhan, and scientists for several decades have been paying attention to some diseases, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers), Ebola and Nipah virus were transmitted to humans from animals.

But the problem is not in animals, but in how a person treats them, scientists say.

“The frequency of pandemics will only increase,” says Peter Dashaka, head of the US-based EcoHealth Alliance, a new disease research organization. - This is not an accidental will of God. This is due to what we do with the environment. We must admit that we should behave in a less risky way. ”

“To try to stave off a new epidemic, we need to ban markets for wild animals around the world,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mreme, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). “If we don’t take care of nature, then it will take care of us.” . It would be nice to ban markets for the sale of live animals, as China and some countries did. ”

The New York City Animal Welfare Society agrees with the UN representative. This will not only help prevent the spread of disease, but also solve one of the main causes of species extinction.

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After the outbreak, China introduced a temporary ban on the breeding and eating of wild animals. Thousands of farms where porcupines, wyverrs and turtles were bred were closed. But loopholes remained in the law, and the sale of wild animals for the needs of medicine, as pets, and for scientific research is still allowed.

Scientists are convinced that a temporary ban is not enough.

Chinese folk medicine also uses wild animals to make ingredients. Just recently, the Chinese government seems to have approved the use of bear bile for treating coronavirus.

Activists fear that such exceptions to the law would pave the way for the illegal trade in wild meat. For example, in the past this happened to tigers and leopards. Most likely, it will be possible to buy pangolin meat, since its scales are used for medical purposes, and nails serve as decoration.

Therefore, close attention is focused on what amendments will be made to the law on the protection of wildlife, and whether loopholes will remain there.

Destruction of nature

This is not the first epidemic that draws special attention to wildlife trade. In 2002, Sars, killing more than 700 people, spread from China. It is believed that bats and wyverns were carriers of the infection, but there is no evidence of this.

Dirk Pfeiffer from City University of Hong Kong believes that the main problem is the existing demand.

“For people who supply animals, either by raising them on farms or by raising them in nature, this is an important source of income. It will be wrong to criminalize their activities overnight, the process should be gradual, ”he said.

Elisabeth Maruma Mrema of the United Nations agrees with him, according to her, some populations living in poor areas of Africa, for example, are completely dependent on wildlife trade, and if no alternative is found, there may be a risk of illegal wildlife trade.

“Even in nature reserves, forests still remain in place, but there are no wild animals in them because they were sold in the markets,” he added.

“You can easily begin to blame someone, but this happens not only in China, it happens in many other countries, including Western countries. We like to have exotic pets, and many of them are born in nature. Therefore, you must first deal with your own home, ”said the scientist.

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According to Andrew Cunningham, deputy scientific director of the Zoological Society of London, in order to prevent another pandemic in the future, it is necessary to pay attention to the causes, and not only to the effect caused by it. At the root of the problem is the destruction of nature, which causes a conflict between animals and humans.

Markets - time bomb

In some Asian countries, eating exotic meat is associated with high status and wealth. Thanks to the use of wild animals for food and medicine, their trade is booming. Often animals are obtained illegally, which leads to the appearance of foci of diseases and the possibility of infection with human viruses.

The so-called wet markets have become commonplace in many countries of Southeast Asia, especially in mainland China. They sell fish, chicken, wild animals, as well as fruits and vegetables. They got their name from melting ice, which is used to preserve the freshness of the goods, as well as to clean the floor from the blood of dead animals.

Wet markets are real time bombs on the issue of epidemics, Cunningham says. “The way we treat animals - like they are some kind of consumer goods that can be plundered, ultimately comes to our side, and this is not surprising,” he said.

Transmission to people

The current coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives, has begun on the seafood market in Wuhan. Despite its name, the market sold not only fish, but also, for example, snakes, porcupines and deer.

After the first market-related infections of humans, the virus began to spread rapidly in China and then around the world. Its exact origin is unknown, but most likely, the carrier was originally a bat, and the virus was transmitted to humans through another wild animal.

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