How the Destruction of Wildlife Caused Toilet Paper Shortages (Opinion)
As someone who was highly skeptical of the projected earth-shattering effects of this new Coronavirus, I’m now struggling with everyone else to find household essentials like pasta, toilet paper, and even quinoa. I can’t even gear up to go outside because stores like REI are closing their doors. Plus, with all of this rain we’ve been getting in San Diego (don’t judge), it’s hard not to feel like I should be preparing for the apocalypse. What is it that caused this virus to suddenly ripple through human populations? Why now, and are there more outbreaks to come?
Let’s ask some animals.
Whether it be their fictional vampiric associations or their history of spreading disease, bats have been identified as one of the most likely Coronavirus culprits. According to a study from February 2020, one of the 500 different types of coronaviruses bats normally carry shared 96% of the genetic makeup of the Coronavirus now found in humans. That seems like a lot, so they must be the cause of this chaos, right? Probably not. Because of what we know about how viruses evolve to become successful hosts in other organisms, bats would have had to transmit the virus to an intermediary host, like a chicken or a goat, before it could infect humans.
So, can we all agree to give bats some space and not call for their eradication? Bats are already struggling with a number of incredibly deadly fungal diseases like White-Nose Syndrome, so let’s show them some love and protection, instead.
Newer studies bring to question a completely different suspect: pangolins. Ever heard of them? If you haven’t, pangolins are ant-eater-like animals with scales that take the cutest parts of hedgehogs and combine them with the badass armor of a crocodile. Unfortunately, they are also the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world. Since 2000, some populations have declined by 80 percent due to their value in Chinese markets (like the one in Wuhan) for exotic meat and traditional medicine. Pangolins carry coronaviruses, too, some of which share over 90% of the genetic makeup of this new Coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if by decimating this animal’s population for medicinal purposes, we inadvertently caused a global pandemic?
Whether the Coronavirus was introduced by bats, pangolins, or some intermediary animal in circulation, there truly is only one animal we can blame: humans. As our populations increase and we encroach on shrinking wildlife habitats, odds are we’ll have more interactions with wildlife. These interactions commonly hurt wildlife more than they hurt us, but this is one example of many which prove our lack of education about the natural world may destroy us. It’s now more important than ever that we improve the connection we share with the rest of life on Earth. As E. O. Wilson puts it, if our resource demands continue to grow and we don’t set aside half of the Earth for all other life, we’ll be living in the “Eremozoic” - the Age of Loneliness.
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