Wildlife scientist says preventing next pandemic depends on protecting nature
WINGHAM, ONT. -- Both SARS and COVID-19 have been attributed to wet markets in Asia. Not commonplace in North America, but wildlife and humans are interacting more than ever, here as well. So says, Dr. Justina Ray, Chief Scientist and President of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada.
"The interface between wild biodiversity and humans is getting violated everyday and all over the place. It’s the same thing here in the sense that environmental degradation is leading to more of these kinds of occurrences," says Dr. Ray.
Ray was in Huron County recently talking to conservationists about how to prevent the next pandemic. She believes our chances would improve greatly if society takes a "one health" approach, which means, humans can better protect our well-being, by sustaining and protecting biodiversity in nature.
"Frankly in Southern Ontario, the condition of our nature is not particularly fantastic. We’ve allowed a lot environmental degradation over the past century. Our forest and wetland cover is a shadow of what is used to be," says Ray.
While that hasn’t led to a worldwide pandemic, our area isn’t immune to the impact of wildlife based infectious diseases or viruses.
"Lyme Disease is a good example of one that’s emerging in our area. But, I think the important fact is it doesn’t matter where you are, safeguarding nature is one of the most important things we can do to reduce the future infectious disease outbreaks from wildlife," says Phil Beard, General Manager of the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority.
Dr. Ray believes Conservation Authorities are the perfect vehicles for protecting our environment, and therefore protecting human health.
"How our forests and our wetlands are faring is really important for human health and well being. It will also help with our overall resilience to being able to deal with this pandemic and the next ones to follow," she says.
Dr. Ray says there are 1.7 million unknown viruses in the world, 700,000 of which could impact humans. She says we only understand <0.1% of those viruses.