Human activities such as hunting and farming that are destroying the habitats of animals have increased the risk viruses like COVID-19 spilling over from animals to humans because of closer proximity of them with humans, a major study has shown.
Illegal poaching, mechanized farming and increasingly urbanized lifestyles have all led to mass biodiversity loss in recent decades, devastating populations of wild animals and increasing the abundance of domesticated livestock.
75% zoonotic virus carried by bats, rats
A data analysis conducted by researchers at the University of California and the University of Melbourne looked at more than 140 viruses known to have been transmitted from animals to humans and cross-referenced them with the IUCN’s Red List of endangered species.
They found 75 percent of the zoonotic virus was carried by domesticated animals, primates, bats and rats.
Wild animals well adapted to human-dominated environments
The study further said that rodents, bats and primates which often live among people, and close to houses and farms can also share more viruses with people. Bats alone have been linked to diseases like Sars, Nipah, Marburg and Ebola.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that the spillover risk was highest from threatened and endangered wild animals whose populations had declined largely due to hunting, wildlife trade and loss of habitat.
We need to be really attentive to how we interact with wildlife: Lead Author
“Our data highlight how exploitation of wildlife and destruction of natural habitat in particular, underlie disease spillover events, putting us at risk for emerging infectious diseases,” said Christine Johnson, from the University of California’s School of Veterinary Medicine, lead author of the research.
She added, “The consequence is they’re sharing their viruses with us. These actions simultaneously threaten species survival and increase the risk of spillover. In an unfortunate convergence of many factors, this brings about the kind of mess we’re in now.”
“We need to be really attentive to how we interact with wildlife and the activities that bring humans and wildlife together. We obviously don’t want pandemics of this scale. We need to find ways to co-exist safely with wildlife, as they have no shortages of viruses to give us,” said Johnson.