Wildlife trade, habitat destruction, and loss of biodiversity are leading to an increased outbreak of zoonotic diseases. In this report, we investigate ways that we can improve our relationship with wildlife and protect human health.
From our daily routines to our basic norms of social interaction, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has upended virtually all aspects of our collective lives. Few events in history have so strongly reinforced the close linkage between humankind and the world’s wildlife.
Zoonotic diseases pass from animals to humans
The spillover of zoonotic diseases into human populations is by no means a new phenomenon. Across history, both recent and past, zoonotic diseases have affected people all across the globe. From severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) to avian flu to COVID-19—history has not failed to repeat itself. Yet now is a critical moment, a time when disease has affected a broad swath of the global human community at once, to reflect on the lessons that nature teaches us. Namely, that we must assume the role of responsible stewards of nature and wildlife, rather than the unsuccessful “masters” of it.
It is a harsh but unmistakable reality that the spread of zoonotic disease is most often a direct result of humanity’s exploitation of and improper contact with wildlife. The threat comes not from the mere existence of that species of wild animal or even of the zoonotic disease itself, but from human behavior—from the tendency to cross lines that are starkly drawn in nature, but toward which humankind continues to turn a blind eye.
Healthy relationships between humans & wildlife is critical
Despite society’s trend toward urbanization and detachment from the natural world, the inherent connection between humans and nature remains critical. Animals live in every environment on earth and their presence or absence affects key well-being issues far beyond simple food security. Humankind remains not only interconnected with the global ecosystem at large but also highly dependent on functioning natural systems and the health of wildlife on a more local scale. Mounting evidence shows that biodiversity itself plays a critical role in controlling the spread of zoonotic disease, supporting the growing consensus that protecting biodiversity must be considered an essential component of public health plans—for the alternative will lead to a devastating repeat of the current public health crisis.
This report provides a scientific history and accompanying commentary that serve as reminders of how undeniably linked we are with the richness of the world’s wildlife. But perhaps its deepest value is in discussing some of the greatest threats that sometimes characterize the relationship between humankind and wildlife, contributing to the transmission and spread of zoonotic disease. The scourge of the global wild animal trade dramatically escalates the risk of public health crises as the transportation and sale of animals and animal parts increases. Add to this a general degradation of habitat and biodiversity, which not only jeopardizes our ability to discover potential new medical treatments derived from nature, but also presents a slew of increased risks to human health, such as reduced water security, which can arise in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Our influence is far-reaching but our dominance over wildlife is nothing more than an illusion. This report presents a series of recommendations that can serve as building blocks to set a new vision for the future, redefining the boundary between humankind and the natural world and transforming our relationship with wild animals.
Improve our relationship with wildlife to improve our own health
I welcome you to take this next step with Beyond COVID-19. Preserving human health by reinventing our relationship with wildlife. May it offer us all a comprehensive perspective on our role in the natural world and a blueprint through which to reduce the likelihood of future pandemics. The fate of humanity is intertwined with that of nature, and we must begin preserving it now, for the future of all species on this planet—including our own—depends on it.
To a more hopeful future.
Azzedine Downes President and CEO