Today is Earth Day. A day to celebrate the amazing place where we live, but also a time to reflect on our relationship with Planet Earth and, as ‘normality’ resumes, our reliance upon it.
This last weekend, the British public left their houses en masse. With every reason to celebrate, spend saved up money, and meet loved ones, but we must not forget why we were stuck in our homes for months… Indeed, COVID-19 still presents a significant risk, and as recorded global deaths exceed 3 million, efforts need to focus on bringing it under control, but also to ensure it never happens again.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded its investigation into the origins of COVID-19. It issued a call to action for global governments to suspend all markets “where live animals are held, slaughtered and dressed”, noting they “pose a particular risk for pathogen transmission to workers and customers alike”. They concluded that COVID-19 most likely originated from a species of bat, infecting humans via another, yet to be identified, animal species. Where the mixing of animal species, usually from unknown origins and of unknown health status, coupled with poor hygiene and housing conditions, provide the ideal conditions for the emergence of new pathogens that include zoonotic viruses (like COVID-19).
Live animal markets were also implicated some 17 years ago, following the SARS pandemic. Then the live animal markets were initially suspended but soon resumed, unchallenged and unchanged, despite the risk.
Whilst SARS was not as deadly as COVID-19, it is a type of coronavirus. Why no action was taken then by the international community is not understood, as on hindsight, their permanent closure could well have prevented COVID-19. Clearly international pressures must be applied today, to end these known incubators of dangerous disease.
But what does emergent disease have to do with Planet Earth?
Evidence unequivocally demonstrates that planetary health, biodiversity, climate change, and emergent disease are interconnected. Whereby the often-exploitative human activity on the natural world (i.e. animal abuse, wildlife trafficking, land conversion, habitat fragmentation, etc.) drives biodiversity-loss and climate change, and further, directly corresponds with a sharp increase in human infectious disease originating from animals (known as zoonoses). Reducing such practices, will likely aid the restoration of nature and reinstate its ability as a protective barrier against disease.
Nature should not only be regarded as the ‘silver bullet’ to lessen climate change (as concluded in ANIMONDIAL’s previous blog), but it is also considered the ‘silver bullet’, to protect us all from emergent diseases. Check out ANIMONDIAL’s 5-point plan to better protect nature.
What can the travel and tourism sector do to help?
The sector has the ability to influence change, particularly in those destinations that rely on tourism revenues. Such action will not only help to discourage animal exploitation, and encourage the better protection of animals and nature, but it also has the means to mitigate future pandemics.
By example, FOUR PAWS, the international NGO is calling on the travel and tourism sector to help bring an end to the dog and cat meat trade, which they evidence to proliferate zoonotic disease in tourism destinations. Their investigations in Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam have revealed that up to 30 million companion animals are killed every year for their meat in Asia and are frequently slaughtered in markets alongside other species, contributing to the threat. This is highlighted by this infographic:
Whilst few western tourists are likely to venture to intentionally eat either dog or cat, tourists are exposed to risk in marketplaces, restaurants and along trade routes frequented by tourists. Dogs and cats, along with many mammals, are implicated in the transmission of disease. Most notably the fatal diseases of rabies and cholera but, due the species mixing in the live animal markets, could well be implicated in the next emergent disease.
FOUR PAWS is seeking the support of the travel and tourism sector to raise concern with the authorities and encourage an end to the dog and cat meat trade. FOUR PAWS sets out the dangers of the trade to public and animal health and provides recommendations for future action, in the full report.
The COVID-19 pandemic magnifies numerous systemic problems, including widespread exploitation of natural resources, ineffective environmental protection, social and economic inequalities, and substandard healthcare systems. If we are to truly build back better, actions must break down the silos, exploring the synergies and convergence between climate, biodiversity, and public health.
» Support the FOUR PAWS pledge to protect local people and tourists alike from zoonotic disease
» Sign up to Build Back Better for Animals and nature
- UNWTO (2020)
- IISD (2021)