2020 has brought a different kind of silent spring than Rachel Carson warned us of nearly 60 years ago; one in which human-made sounds, rather than birdsongs, have drastically diminished because of pandemic-induced social distancing. Without the noise created by all of our busy-ness filling the air, quiet has descended upon many parts of the world. At times, the new silence has been understandably uncomfortable—we are social creatures, after all—but “stay at home” orders have also provided us with the quietude to reflect on what truly matters. At Wild Hope we’ve been thinking a lot about the parallels between Carson’s silent spring and today’s. Carson foretold a future in which humans would destroy life on Earth. She asserted that our overuse of toxic pesticides and herbicides to control insects and weeds was killing wildlife in such huge numbers we were driving them to extinction. Her vision compelled President John F. Kennedy to launch investigations into agricultural chemicals, which eventually led to stricter regulations. Today, we are facing another wildlife crisis, one that threatens to destroy us, too.
Pandora’s Box of Zoonoses The international trade in wildlife for food, medicine, pets and luxury goods has opened a Pandora’s box of zoonoses—infectious, and sometimes deadly, diseases that can pass between animals and humans. They can be caused by a bacteria, parasite, fungus, or a virus like SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. And the routes of transmission are varied and complicated. In the case of COVID-19, we are learning that the culprit, coronavirus, may or may not have evolved in a pangolin, or a horseshoe bat; or it may have first developed in a bat, skipped to a pangolin, and then jumped to a human at a so-called “wet market” in Wuhan, China. Scientists don’t know definitively, yet, how COVID-19 came into existence, but what’s certain is that the pangolin and the bat aren’t to blame: We are. Humans created the conditions for the coronavirus to make its leap from animals to us. Wet markets, like the one in Wuhan, where captive domestic and wild animals are crammed into cages stacked on top of each other, making it possible for viruses to slip from one species to another, aren’t the only sources of zoonoses. We were shocked to learn that the US accounts for an estimated 20% of the global wildlife market. We import on the order of 225 million live animals annually and 800 million wildlife specimens, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Therein lies plenty of opportunity for zoonoses to spread.
And the burden is on us
to prevent it from happening. You may think there’s nothing you can do about wildlife trafficking, but there is. In addition to learning more about it and sharing what you learn with others, you can support organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity in their efforts to use US and international laws to end the global trade in wildlife. The Center is working to get the pangolin listed as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act so that it becomes illegal to sell pangolin products in this country. Unregulated Internet commerce makes it possible for traffickers to sell wildlife and products made from them online, so if you see something, report it to endwildlifetraffickingonline.org/report
and they will investigate. Let’s do these things and make this the last silent spring our children will know. Be The Hope
KATHRYN ARNOLD AND JANE PALECEK