Indian Scientists Find Strong Link Between Wildlife Trade and Zoonotic Diseases
A new study has found evidence connecting both legal and illegal wildlife trade to the risk of exposure to zoonotic diseases, that is, diseases transmitted from animals to humans, like rabies, plague, and zoonotic influenza.
Published in Current Biology last week, the study analyzed the link between 800 mammal species and 226 viruses known to cause diseases in humans. The results showed that just 27% of mammal species involved in the wildlife trade hosted as many as 75% of diseases that can spread from animals to humans — causing outbreaks that can turn into epidemics, or even pandemics.
“It is important to survey and monitor groups that have high zoonotic virus richness. Other than bats, it is primates, carnivores, ungulates, and rodents. These groups may likely harbor more undiscovered zoonotic viruses… What this means is that we need to monitor and curtail trade in a very large number of species,” said Sandeep Sen of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bengaluru, who co-authored the study.
Another study, published last week in Biological Reviews also points to the risk of pathogens spilling over into human bodies — not just from wildlife, but also from livestock farming and trade. The study also listed international trade of exotic animals to keep as pets, and even human encroachment of wildlife habitats as possible causes for the next pandemic.
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“[W]hile the risk of another pandemic cannot be eliminated, systemic changes in the way we interact with animals, in general, could substantially minimize the probability,” The Guardian noted in a report.
The findings reinforce the need for more regulations and checks around trade. In India, more than 30,000 people, across 25 states and five union territories, are in possession of live, exotic species, according to declarations made under a government disclosure scheme made June to December 2020.
“Strong policy measures are needed for curtailing and monitoring wildlife trade,” K.N. Shivaprakash of The Nature Conservancy in Delhi, who led the study relating to zoonotic diseases, said in the statement.
In addition to wildlife trade, deforestation also increases our exposure to zoonotic diseases — primarily due to habit destruction of wild species. Previous reports have also indicated that there is a clear link between deforestation and virus emergence — as people continue to transform natural habitats into agricultural land, forest edges become a “major launchpad” for zoonotic diseases to jump from their native animals onto humans.
“In a way, it is simple. Curtail deforestation and fragmentation of habitats; increase connectivity of natural habitats,” Sen concluded.