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Fewer species, more disease

  • 30 July, 2020

  • 8 Min Read

Fewer species, more disease

By,Prakash Nelliyat is a Chennai-based researcher


  • Scientists believe that the loss of biodiversity, and wildlife trade, have strong linkages with the emergence of epidemics.
  • The pandemic is an opportunity for the global community to explore the consequences of its unscientific actions on nature and prepare for behavioural change.

Loss of biodiversity

  • Dangerous infectious diseases (Ebola, Bird flu, MERS, SARS, Nipah, etc.) have been transferred from wild animals to humans.
  • In order to clear land for agriculture and development, forests and habitats have been destroyed.
  • In the process, we have lost several species.
  • Human-induced environmental changes reduce biodiversity resulting in new conditions that host vectors and/or pathogens.

Probabilities of zoonotic transmission of COVID-19

  • It is not yet fully understood which species have contributed to the transmission of COVID-19 and how.
  • However, according to experts, there is strong evidence that it spread from a wildlife market in Wuhan, China.
  • Two hypothesis have been discussed:

(a) the virus jumped from bats directly to humans;

(b) from bats to pangolins and then to humans.

Organised Crime

  • Apart from wildlife markets, illegal trade of wildlife is part of the growing problem.
  • Trafficking in wild plants and animals and wildlife products has become one of the largest and most lucrative forms of organised crime.
  • By deliberately pursuing and hunting certain species or by establishing monocultures, habitats and ecosystems are being damaged, fragmented or destroyed.
  • Illegal wildlife smuggling is an emerging threat to India’s unique wildlife heritage.
  • According to an NGO based in Guwahati, which works for the protection of Eastern Himalayan biodiversity, India shelters a number of vulnerable and threatened species.
  • Body parts of animals including pangolins, Asiatic black bears and rhinos are being traded illegally to countries such as China, Vietnam, and Laos.
  • Another study has found that there was a significant increase in the poaching of wild animals in India even during the lockdown.
  • Species are being wiped out by organised trade networks, with new poaching techniques, for manufacturing traditional Chinese medicines.
  • The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services shows that people extensively encroach natural habitats; hence biodiversity is declining significantly.
  • By disturbing the delicate balance of nature, we have created ideal conditions for the spread of viruses from animals to humans.
  • We should realise that we live in a world where biodiversity is our common heritage and natural capital.

The way forward

  • We need to revisit our relationship with nature and rebuild an environmentally responsible world.
  • Nations should work towards realising the 2050 vision for biodiversity, ‘Living in Harmony with Nature’.
  • We must follow a ‘one health’ approach which considers the health of people, wild and domesticated animals, and the environment.
  • We need to strictly regulate high-risk wildlife markets, promote green jobs and work towards achieving carbon-neutral economies.
  • India should strictly enforce the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, which prohibits the trade of 1,800 species of wild animals/plants and their derivatives; the Biological Diversity Act of 2002; strategies and action plans including the National Biodiversity Targets; and the National Biodiversity Mission.
  • The mainstreaming of biodiversity is needed in our post-COVID-19 development programme.
  • The over 2 lakh biodiversity management committees (local-level statutory bodies formed under the Act) can play a significant role in this regard.
  • Mass biodiversity literacy should be our mission.
  • Ecosystem integrity will regulate diseases and restrict the transmission of pathogens from one species to another.


Source: TH


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