brussels PANGOLINS? covid-19 and biodiversity loss

Firstly, Covid-19 is not a laboratory criminal creation and everybody has a new word in his/her vocabulary: pangolins.

 

As a little boy, George Dian Balan made a habit of visiting the Antipa natural history museum with his father. On one of the occasions, he spent around two hours contemplating from every possible angle a mounted pangolin. It is then when his father earned the Daddy of the Year award, indeed.

 

As much as that anteater covered in scales fascinated him, nobody could anticipate at that time that pangolins will get in the spotlight of a pandemic. If coronavirus 2019 is not a lab malicious invention, then we cannot help thinking that it all started with a biodiversity loss.

 

Pangolins are the most illegally traded mammals on Earth. They are key to ecosystems, as they keep ants and termites under control. Pangolins are part of trophic cascades. Take them out, and repercussions may be beyond any expectations.

 

Brussels bush-meat? Yes, indeed. The Brussels Airport is at the heart of illegal wildlife trade, and tons of illegal meat, including pangolins, come to Brussels, on transit or as a final destination, every year (https://www.brusselstimes.com/all-news/belgium-all-news/81690/huge-quantities-of-bush-meat-pass-through-brussels-airport-each-year/).

 

Secondly, Covid-19 may be a normal natural response to a species becoming over-successful to the disastrous detriment of others. Indeed, anthrax epidemics in Kruger National Park, occurring every 10-20 years, or fungi targeting ants and beetles in the Amazonian rainforest perform similar functions. They are part of the circle of life. By keeping certain species under control, others can thrive. To a certain extent, this enhances biodiversity.

 

Thirdly, be it a natural occurrence, or a lab product, coronavirus 2019 has changed the world.

Ironically, this pandemic also presented itself as an opportunity. By keeping humans at bay, nature was allowed to breathe. Due to less nitrogen dioxide emissions, pollution levels went down (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZmFWcPeqGk).

 

However, biodiversity does not recover overnight. It takes time for nature to bounce back (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/03/coronavirus-pandemic-fake-animal-viral-social-media-posts/). 

 

Fourthly, this was also an occasion for reflection. Who did not, at least for a second, look back and tried to understand how did we get there in first place? 

By living confined in city cages, we may understand better how it feels when we keep other souls behind bars.

The Islamabad High Court, for instance, has just confirmed the rights of nonhuman animals, and ordered the release to sanctuary of an Asian elephant held in solitary confinement in a zoo (https://finance.yahoo.com/amphtml/news/islamabad-high-court-recognizes-rights-235938432.html).

 

Once put in cages, people have ordered more flowers, better realising how important nature is for our own mental health (https://metro.co.uk/2020/04/25/people-lockdown-realising-just-important-nature-mental-health-12604652/).

 

Finally, the pandemic is followed by an economic shock wave. Conservation was never a spoiled sector, and resources were scarce. Now, they have become even scarcer. Rangers and guides salaries can no longer be paid. Biodiversity is at threat as never before. 

 

What about you? What are the lessons you have learnt?

 

George Dian Balan, TAO-AFIs biodiversity expert

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