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The revenge of nature?

The natural world is striking back at our exploitation of the earth and wildlife by driving animals to extinction

The revenge of nature?

People wearing biohazard suits display placards with slogans during a protest in front of the Department of Health in Manila, the Philippines, amid the Covid-19 epidemic on Feb. 13. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)  

The new coronavirus threatens the health of millions of people around the world if it spreads uncontrollably. 

Every precaution must be taken to prevent its spread and that means practicing greater personal and public hygiene and avoiding contact with people traveling from an infected area.

We must show concern and never discriminate against anyone. Besides strict containment, strict personal hygiene, the washing of hands and clean surroundings can hold its spread.

Public health officials must be prepared for an outbreak. The flu-like disease does not have a high fatality rate: only two people in every hundred die from it. People can get very sick with severe respiratory problems and yet recover. Others can have the virus but have no symptoms.

Everywhere, including the Philippines, doctors and medical personnel have been briefed and advised on the potential health problem and we are reminded that prevention is better than cure. So, there is no need to panic or raise alarm, but intelligent planning, preparation and prevention are what is needed. Besides, most people are recovering from it with good medical care.

The big hope is that the virus cannot survive in high temperatures, so bring on a hot summer everywhere, and with global warming we can expect that. 

The highest temperatures ever recorded in Australia and parts of Europe in 2019 are stunning. That is because of man-made climate change. That might kill off this deadly virus and tropical countries like the Philippines might be spared.

The good news is the World Health Organization has announced that the virus may have reached its peak in China as fewer daily infections have been recorded. The coronavirus is also the result of ill-advised and illegal human behavior.

We have seen the outbreak of many deadly diseases and viruses in recent decades. More viruses that are affecting humans are crossing over from other mammals and birds. Remember the avian flu? 

The human immunodeficiency virus is said to have crossed over from monkeys when people ate them as bush meat. Likewise, Ebola likely came from eating monkeys, they say. Then, we had the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), said to have originated from bats, and today the 2019 coronavirus that possibly came from bats, too, although it is not yet proven.

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You might say these diseases are the revenge of nature. The natural world is striking back at the disastrous human exploitation of the rainforests, the oceans and all wildlife by driving them to extinction. 

There is destruction in almost every habitat in the developing world and in some parts of the developed world, too. Illegal trade and trafficking in many endangered animal species for huge profit could be the cause of coronavirus.

China is a big market for endangered animals and thousands of animals are butchered each year, mostly in Africa, to provide elephant ivory for the China ornament trade, now banned but still thriving. 

In 2009, there was as many as 109,000 elephants in Tanzania but due to poaching and slaughter, there were only 43,000 left in 2014, a 60 percent loss according to government reports. There are even less today. 

In 1970, the number of rhino had decreased to 70,000 and as of today there are only 29,000 left on the planet.

They are on the way to extinction like the white rhino by bandits killing them for their valuable horn for Chinese traditional medicine. Scientific research has shown the horn to have no more medicinal value than horses’ hooves.

Hundreds of creatures are killed and collected to supply the demand for Chinese traditional medicine, most of which are ineffective, have no medical benefit and are unnecessary considering the huge advances in Chinese health care.

The small ant-eating creature called the pangolin could be responsible for the jump of the 2019 coronavirus from animal to human. They are the most widely traded and trafficked creature stolen from the wild in Southeast Asia, India and Africa. They are now practically extinct in China because they killed them for food and their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine. They have been found in the wild food market of Wuhan where the coronavirus first made the crossover leap from animal to humans.

According to an investigative report by The Guardian, one shop was found to have for sale live animals such as "live wolf pups, golden cicadas, scorpions, bamboo rats, squirrels, foxes, civets, hedgehogs (probably porcupines), salamanders, turtles and crocodiles."

All destined for the cooking pot, it seems. Bats are known carriers of many viruses and the forest dwelling pangolin could have picked up the virus from bats’ droppings on the forest floor, some speculate. This is a likely cross over for the virus. Or some human ate the bats. They are on sale in wildlife markets.

Corrupt governments like that in Brazil allow traders and loggers to attack the last of the rai forests and destroy their natural beauty by cutting trees, driving out and killing their indigenous people and trafficking their wildlife. 

We can expect more health problems in the future. Nature will rebel just like the mighty storms and heatwaves caused by man-made climate change are coming back to hit us.

Why can’t we respect nature, preserve the forest, protect the environment and its wildlife?

The answer is easy. It is because of human greed. It is an insatiable, unquenchable drive beyond control. 

To stop the greed and trafficking of wildlife and the crossover of animal-borne viruses to humans, the authorities worldwide must go after the traffickers and traders of wildlife. They must identify their bank accounts and confiscate their property, assets and money and jail the big-time traders. It is essential to ban all sale and trading in wildlife.

Father Shay Cullen is an Irish missionary priest and founder of the Preda Foundation in the Philippines. He is a member of the Missionary Society of St. Columban. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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