WASHINGTON— More than 100 organizations urged Congress today to address the wildlife trade and habitat destruction, the root causes of emerging zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 that have erupted over the past several decades in the United States and around the world.
In a letter the groups noted that 60% of known infectious diseases in people can be transmitted from animals, and 75% of emerging zoonotic infectious diseases originate in wildlife. These emergent diseases have quadrupled in the past 50 years.
“We need to help people first, but this is both a public health crisis and a conservation emergency,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As we spend trillions to bail out the economy, we must also address habitat loss and the wildlife trade so future pandemics become less likely.”
The groups requested that 1% of total funds in future stimulus packages go to jobs addressing habitat loss, legal and illegal wildlife trade, and the protection of biological diversity in the United States and globally. Adding law enforcement and inspectors at U.S. ports of entry and building global capacity to address the extinction crisis can help reduce the risk of future pandemics.
Biodiversity loss, high rates of deforestation and the ballooning human population are leading to an increase in human encroachment into previously undisturbed habitat and wildlife. Combined with legal and illegal wildlife trade, this increases the risk that viruses like COVID-19 will be more easily transmitted to humans.
COVID-19 was first recognized to have infected humans in a live-animal market in Wuhan, China, where a single meat shop sold live peacocks, rats, foxes, crocodiles, wolf cubs, turtles, snakes, wild pigs and more.
“The coronavirus is a global tragedy, and it shows we can’t ignore the ravaging of the natural world,” said Hartl.