Whilst the world may be begging to emerge from managed, let us not forgot how got here, and that many of us are still working to try and address why the problem started in the first place.
We know that in the unregulated, seldom monitored, illegal hunting and eating of wild animal meat there is a danger of disease ‘jumping’ between the original reservoir and to humans. Recent scientific studies suggest that the current coronavirus pandemic in humans started from the virus morphing in intermediate animal hosts, with pangolins (family Manidae) being a likely candidate. Pangolin meat and scales are traded heavily throughout the world. In China, pangolins scales are used in traditional medicine. Needless to say, pangolins scales have been shown to have absolutely no medical benefits to humans whatsoever (unless you believe that eating your fingernails can have medical benefits – pangolin scales are made of the same stuff).
It's not just coronaviruses that can jump. The Aids Institute makes the point that:
“Scientists identified a type of chimpanzee in West Africa as the source of HIV infection in humans. They believe that the chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV) most likely was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV when humans hunted these chimpanzees for meat and came into contact with their infected blood”.
Many people living in remote rural areas, and who hunt for wild-caught meat for food know that there is a personal risk in doing so, and that it is often illegal. But as we have seen from several high-profile recent cases, it is not just local people who are in danger, but Homo sapiens as a species are at risk.
This week our team in Cameroon travelled to remote forest communities as part of our project to support change from the trading and eating of wild-caught meat to other, sustainable and less risky forms of trade and food, such as cocoa growing and sustainable fishing.
On Thursday, local people reported that they had seen a group of hunters leaving the forest with heavy bags. The local game guards tracked the poachers, captured and arrested them. Inside the bag they found a freshly slaughtered chimpanzee, as well as other types of mammal.
The team are making progress on supporting alternatives and bringing the people into ‘early-warning systems’ that can help report illegal, high health risk activities such as the killing and butchering of great apes for human consumption. The killing is still going on, and hence the risks still exist. To all of us.
How can you help?
Through supporting our work to provide alternatives to illegal hunting for wild-caught meat for rural, forest living communities, and giving them support to play key roles in the reporting of illegal wildlife trading. Visit www.landscapeconservation.org.uk for more information.