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The outbreak of COVID-19 has reminded the world that zoonotic diseases are a major threat to human health. Yet, viruses that spread from animals to humans don’t have to occur in wet markets or through illicit wildlife trade, captive animals can also spread them due to the stress and proximity to humans that occur in captivity.
For instance, as Marilyn Kroplick, president of In Defense of Animals, explained in Eco Watch, “Tuberculosis is a deadly, highly infectious disease that has long existed in captive populations of African and Asian elephants in zoos and circuses across the U.S. According to the World Health Organization, TB is one of the top ten causes of death worldwide, killing millions of people each year.”
Any situation where humans are in close contact with animals can lead to human health risks, as is the case for petting zoos. But the reverse can also be true as humans can also spread diseases to animals.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that the state of Florida recently issued a warning that people should be careful working with animals believed to be susceptible to the coronavirus such as possibly cats, bobcats, panthers, ferrets, river otters, dogs, coyotes, foxes, bats, hamsters, mice and rats.
Why This Matters: As Kroplick went on to explain, “in a process called reverse zoonosis, diseases such as influenza A virus, herpes simplex 1, measles and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have been documented as passing from humans to animals.” And in the case of COVID-19, pets and zoo animals can catch the virus from their owners/handlers. While humans have always caught diseases from animals, we have to invest in preventing and tracking emerging zoonotic diseases as human activity is causing these transmissions to increase.
Covid-19 has made abundantly clear that our assault on the world’s biodiversity is also an assault on ourselves. It has proven that we can no longer afford to dismiss the problems scientists and conservationists uncover in faraway places. As forests are destroyed, people and wildlife increasingly come into contact; as the commercial wildlife trade expands, the crossover of diseases from animals to people occurs.
We simply must take better care of the natural world. Healthy ecosystems are some of our best defenses against the challenges climate change is bringing.
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