Conflict between humans and animals raises pandemic threat

Biodiversity experts warn of up to 1.7 million deadly, unidentified viruses in animals that could cross to us

FILE - This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the virus that causes COVID-19. (NIAID-RML via AP, File)

Up to 1.7 million unidentified viruses exist in the animal world that have the potential to cross over into humans and become even more deadly and disruptive than Covid-19, the world’s leading biodiversity experts say.

An expert group has warned that the potential for future pandemics is “vast” and are likely to happen more frequently and spread more rapidly unless governments end the policies that bring humans and animals into conflict.

Animal-to-human deaths already cause an estimated 700,000 deaths a year, an article published on the website of the intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystems services (IPBES) said.

“There is a single species that is responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic – us,” said the article. “As with the climate and biodiversity crises, recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity – particularly our global financial and economic systems…. that prizes economic growth at any cost.”

The experts said that pandemics were caused by increasing numbers of people coming into direct contact with animals who carried the pathogens.

“Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spill over of diseases from wildlife to people,” they added.

The origins of Covid-19 remain unconfirmed but scientists believe the virus originated in bats before spreading to humans, possibly via another animal. A live animal market in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic started, has been identified as a potential location for the crossover into humans.

The authors cited the destruction of wetlands, the unregulated trade in wild animals and the explosive growth of global air travel as factors for animals and humans coming into closer contact than ever before.

They said the factors make clear “how a virus that once circulated harmlessly among a species of bats in Southeast Asia has now infected almost three million people, brought untold human suffering and halted economies and societies around the world.”

Three of the experts, German biologist Josef Settele, Argentinian ecologist Sandra Diaz and a US-based anthropology expert Eduardo Brondizio, warned in a 2019 UN report that the destruction of natural resources threatened society.

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