The world has changed so much in the span of a month. I am working entirely from home and, like many others, am physically isolated from others with the exception of minimized essential trips to the grocery store. Thousands have lost their lives and many are facing food insecurity and unemployment. Students are learning remotely or being homeschooled and my classes have moved online. Berwyn Heights is adapting quickly to address the crisis, including rescheduling and changing the format of an upcoming election.
In the face of so much fear and a global crisis unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetimes, I am constantly reminded that it’s important to consider the roots of this issue. Ultimately, the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease that has so drastically altered our lives can be traced back to our unsustainable relationship with wildlife. Animals like bats regularly carry coronaviruses with no adverse effects. In this case, experts think that the virus transmitted from a bat to an intermediary host (potentially a pangolin) and reached humans in a wildlife market. Wildlife trafficking is a worldwide problem. Incredible numbers of animals are illegally removed from the wild and trafficked and sold worldwide. This problem contributes to many species facing extinction. However, the trafficking of wildlife has drastic impacts for human survival, as illustrated so clearly during this pandemic.
Will we respond to this crisis by shifting our understanding of our relationship with the natural world and heed the lessons learned? Or will we return to business and usual and pump up our carbon emissions, pollute our air and water, and steal species from their native habitats? We can make the systemic, policy change that is so necessary and address our own behaviors, or we can miss this opportunity to protect ourselves and biodiversity. Only time will tell.
Often, I think wildlife and conservation issues are viewed as supplemental or second tier to “more pressing” concerns. In other words, “it’s nice to help animals and pretty places, but there are so many other problems in the world”. I hope this crisis will allow us to see that addressing wildlife issues and protecting biodiversity is not only a matter of helping animals or protecting nature, but truly an issue of human survival that deserves our attention. I truly hope we rise to the challenge.