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The relation between illegal wildlife trading and pandemics

Crocodiles are a protected species in Belize, but like many others, it is hunted illegally, and its meat is sold in markets around the world. While this act greatly damaged ecosystems, it can also be harmful to human lives if unhealthy meat is consumed.

Crocodiles are a protected species in Belize, but like many others, it is hunted illegally, and its meat is sold in markets around the world. While this act greatly damaged ecosystems, it can also be harmful to human lives if unhealthy meat is consumed. Recent international articles are studying links between wildlife trade and pandemics. Dr Les Kaufman, from Boston University, explained how these two are correlated.

Dr.Les Kaufman, Boston University: “With the explosion of covid-19 there’s been renewed attention to the relationship between people and the places where these diseases come from and a great many of the diseases both viral and bacterial that have the potential to become a pandemic, to spread wildly around the world, many of them are curvier and wildlife in tropical forests. Now near these forests of course people are active and there is quite a bit of consumption of bush meat as we call it I mean I don’t think we even think about Gibnut as bush meat but in fact it is and many of these animals when they’re in intact forest are safe for us, they’re no danger to us, but when we cut the trees down and bring animals particularly bats in close proximity with people these animals harbor large loads of potential diseases causing organisms that do not trouble them, but can be disastrous for us. For example, fruit-eating bats deprived of their forest home would raid crops and fields and they would feel them fruit drop bits of the fruit and then our domestic animals pick up those pieces,  acquire the diseases and can pass them to us.”

He also gave recommendations as to how the matter can be addressed.

Dr.Les Kaufman, Boston University: “We really want to go at the problem from both sides, from the top and from the bottom. From the top we want good government policies that make it profitable for people to not cut the trees. There are all kinds of ways of doing that but they should value the trees not just on principle but because the trees are helping them support their livelihood and one way to do that is value the fact that the trees are helping to keep the climate from warming so quickly; they hold carbon in the wood instead of releasing it in to the atmosphere. So government policies can – well in Brazil until Bolsonaro – deforestation had been cut back by about a third just through those top down government policies and people were pretty happy with it. But in places where the forest is fragmented, where it’s really been eaten out and there’s all this edge to worry about there you have to provide more direct assistance to the local people so that they’re not so dependent on the vanishing resources of the forest and those assistance can be in the form of healthcare and better education so those costs are reduced or it could be to support alternative livelihoods.”

Belize is still home to extensive forests, however, there are areas where deforestation is visible and according to Dr Kaufman, these are the areas where more on the ground work needs to be done.