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The Importance of Biodiversity
Majority of all emerging pathogens in humans are zoonotic in origin. Population, ecological, and behavioural changes that increase contact with wildlife exacerbate the emergence of these pathogens. Environmental pollution of the surrounding environment has altered not only our risk of zoonotic infection from wildlife but also the likelihood of pathogen transmission from human to non-human populations and transmission of pathogens between animal populations.
Biodiversity is incredibly important as it can function as a buffer of hosts in an environment, thereby decreasing the likelihood that vectors of infection would feed off humans. Biodiversity loss due to global climate change, deforestation, the spread of invasive species, overexploitation, pollution, and other causes decrease this important buffer. This increases the likelihood of cross species transmission.
The current COVID19 pandemic also illustrates that, despite our experiences with emerging zoonotic diseases (EZDs) such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola, highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza and the improvements made to national and global surveillance systems, humanity is not able to prevent new EZDs originating from animals.
It is therefore crucial to re-evaluate potential sources of emerging pathogens at the animal-human interface and to examine whether we can minimize the risk for future pandemics.
One area where we are failing to uphold the constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to our health and well-being as well as failing to adhere to national legislation is when it comes to the disposal and management of animal biological material. This directly threatens public health and safety as well as animal health and well-being. Whilst it is illegal to dispose of infectious animal carcasses on any landfill site it remains legal in some provinces for non-infectious carcasses to be dumped on certain landfill sites. Bear in mind the “non-infectious” carcasses are not treated to the extent that they will remain non-infectious and not pose a threat to the surrounding environment. It is unfortunate to also report that although there is a substantial amount of environmental legislation in place in South Africa- enforcement thereof is ineffective. As a result, infectious carcasses/biological animal material continues to be dumped on landfill sites within the Western Cape. To add to this, commercial agriculture producers and government organisations lack preparation when it comes to dealing with infectious animal disease outbreaks. Current legislation allows for short-term emergency solutions such as the burial of highly infectious carcasses or mismanaged in-house composting. This cannot be allowed to continue. Already we are seeing cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza being transmitted to humans. We are one irresponsibly managed animal disease outbreak away from yet another pandemic.
It is the responsibility of all individuals to do our part in the effective implementation of measures that protect our health, environment, and biodiversity. It is up to us to work together in making sure that our planet and future are conserved for generations to come.
Biodiversity is the measure of the number, variety, and variability of living organisms. It includes diversity within species, between species, and among ecosystems. The concept also covers how this diversity changes from one location to another and over time. Indicators such as the number of species in each area can help in monitoring certain aspects of biodiversity.
Drivers of Biodiversity Loss:
- Habitat Loss
- Invasive Species
- Climate Change Associated with global warming
Why is biodiversity important?
Biodiversity provides many key benefits to humans that go beyond the mere provision of raw materials. Biodiversity loss has negative effects on several aspects of human wellbeing, such as food security, vulnerability to natural disasters, energy security, and access to clean water and raw materials. It also affects human health, social relations, and freedom of choice.
Threats to Biodiversity: Land use change, pollution, poor water quality, chemical and waste contamination, climate change and other causes of ecosystem degradation all contribute to biodiversity loss and, can pose considerable threats to human health
1 million: About 1 million plant and animal species face the threat of extinction. Unfortunately, human activities speed up the extinction rate we observe.
It is illegal to:
- Bury your pet at home.
- Dump infectious animal mortalities on landfill sites.
Make the right choice: Pets are often our best friends in life, and they do not deserve for their last resting place to be on landfill. Make the right choice and choose a farewell process that is not only humane and respectful, but also environmentally friendly.
Infectious diseases cause over one billion human infections per year, with millions of deaths each year globally. Approximately two thirds of known human infectious diseases are shared with animals, and the majority of recently emerging diseases are associated with wildlife.
3 out of 5: Emerging human infectious diseases are of animal origin. The proper and safe handling of animal mortalities is therefore vital.
Keesing, F. and Ostfeld, R., 2021. Impacts of biodiversity and biodiversity loss on zoonotic diseases. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(17).
Magouras, I., Brookes, V., Jori, F., Martin, A., Pfeiffer, D. and Dürr, S., 2020. Emerging Zoonotic Diseases: Should We Rethink the Animal–Human Interface?. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7.
Muehlenbein, M., 2012. Human-Wildlife Contact and Emerging Infectious Diseases. Human-Environment Interactions, pp.79-94.