Defeating Corona Viruses Through Extreme Social Distancing from Wildlife

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Picture this. I have a flu. You visit my home in Donholm and we spent the entire Sunday afternoon together. We talk intensely about an urban farming project that our organization is rolling out in the City. Because we are both big fans of Trevor Noah, we watch (for the third time) his Netflix show, son of Patricia.

As a preamble to one of his jokes, he declares that, “you can hate immigrants all you want but if you do, you don’t get to eat their food.”

Then he nails it, “no Mexican food, no Caribbean food, only potatoes!”

You laugh so hard that tears form at the edges of your eyes. As for me, my hearty laughter can be heard from the gate. A few minutes later, I open that gate and you dash off to your place.

The following morning at 10AM as you are furiously typing a response to an urgent email, a cough erupts from your lips. Then another one. And another one. A running nose appears soon afterwards.

Flu doesn’t run marathons. Rather, it sprints so fast that one minute you are fine and the next minute you are sneezing, coughing and feeling like a wet blanket that needs squeezing.

You got your flu from me. The flu viruses didn’t care that my flu symptoms weren’t showing yet. It’s only later that night that I also started coughing, sneezing and blowing my nose. Unknown to both of us, my laughter and conversation opened the floodgates for droplets containing flu viruses to ambush you.

If you hadn’t come to my home, you wouldn’t have gotten the flu.

Zoonotics, the diseases that spill over from animals to humans, can only affect us, if we keep intruding into the homes of wild animals. Or if we yank those animals away from their homes.  This is exactly what was happening at the Wuhan wet market where Corona virus was born. The civet cats, live snakes, turtles, cicadas, guinea pigs, bamboo rats, badgers, hedgehogs, otters, and wolf cubs that are typically sold at wet markets across China have no business being in these markets. They belong to their natural homes in forests and wild landscapes.

As far back as four years ago the United Nations Environment Programme reported that, ‘around 60 per cent of all infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic as are 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases. On average, one new infectious disease emerges in humans every four months.’

In December 2019, Covid-19 was one of those emerging infectious diseases. Years earlier, diseases like Ebola, Lyme, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Zika had also emerged from that lethal confluence of unwanted human and wildlife interactions.

We can keep lethal pathogens from spilling from wildlife into our bodies by keeping wildlife away from our hands, homes and plates. When wildlife cuisine makes it into our plates, the only thing that will emerge out of that plate is not a delicacy, but the deadly aroma of disease and death.

When wild animals become our housemates in the name of pets, we are guilty of kidnapping them from their natural homes and might pay the price of contracting viruses from them one day.

When it comes to wildlife, extreme social distancing from them is the best course of action. It will conserve them and keep us healthy.

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