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COVID-19 Outbreak: A Wake-Up Call on Biodiversity Conservation

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

An African proverb rightly says, “If it happens that a vulture is hungry a catastrophe will occur in the town!”
On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) with a death toll and socioeconomic and environmental impacts worldwide.

For the ages, man has been the dominant creature on the planet earth. He domesticates wildlife for food, kills them for sport, commercializes them for pets, and persecutes them in the name of spiritual unfounded beliefs. It is not surprising that the outbreak of many past zoonotic diseases (diseases that jump from wildlife to humans, such as Ebola, HIV/AIDS, and SARS) including the recent Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS – CoV-2), #COVID-19, was in a way related to wildlife trade and the #Anthropocene era (which is characterized by human dominance and induced impacts on the planet). How did this happen? Could it be that nature is fighting back amidst the Anthropocene, responding to human transgressions?

Wildlife trade has become so lucrative with profits worth between $7billion to $23 billion annually, pushing the species involved to the brink of extinction. A good example is the poor looking Pangolin that coils helplessly on an attack by poachers. Pangolin is known to be the most trafficked animal in the world and one of the threatened species in Nigeria and our world today, largely due to its merciless exploitation and demand in the global wildlife trade market. Now, studies have shown that the SARS – CoV-2 virus for COVID-19 is closely related to the original SARS virus in bats and pangolins, with bats having closer relatedness. Another study in Vietnam has shown an increase in the number of animals tested positive for different coronaviruses, and wildlife trade has amplified the spread of the viruses between traded wild animals which are handled poorly. This has a strong implication for viral spillover among people as the traded wildlife end up on people’s plates. All thanks to legal #WildlifeTrade!

Illegal Wildlife trade is no doubt still booming in Nigeria, with an untold effect on biodiversity and the environment. Already, studies and reports by locals and traditional medicine practitioners in the country have shown an alarming decrease of Pangolins and other wildlife that used to be common and exists in close proximity with humans, such as the different species of Vultures. According to Birdlife International and its home partner the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), 7 out of 11 of Africa’s vultures are threatened with extinction, due to illegal trade, medicinal uses, intentional and unintentional poisoning, amongst others. Vultures are indeed more than hungry, they are angry, starving, and fast going to extinction in the space of just one human lifetime, our lifetime!

©Birdlife International

In a bid to end illegal wildlife trade in Nigeria (as a key player in Africa) and to strengthen a bilateral relationship with China, in September 2019, a delegation from the two countries met to collaborate in the fight against illegal wildlife trade as provided in Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This happened barely four months before the outbreak of the virus. With the outbreak of the virus, governments across the globe have been pressurized to end illegal trade and other injustices on wildlife. China has already fulfilled its part of the campaign by imposing a ban on all forms of wildlife trade and its consumption, having learned a lesson from the virus.

The question is whether Nigeria is ready to take such a bold move?

What are the fate of bats, pangolins, and other wildlife (e.g vultures) post-COVID-19 pandemic? What action do we need to take to prevent the next pandemic? This pandemic presents a lesson to learn to protect wildlife and stop wildlife trafficking.

This post was written by Danmallam Bello Adamu,

edited by Taiwo Crossby Omotoriogun, PhD

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