Environmental scientists have been warning the world’s governments for many years that wildlife across the globe is being placed under increasing stress. More and more animal species are losing their habitats as a result of major changes introduced by humans into the physical environment. And yet, until very recently, human health research had barely considered humanity’s impact upon the natural ecosystems that surround our sprawling population centers.
The emerging discipline known as planetary science aims to fill the gaps in scientific knowledge concerning the links between the health of the world’s natural ecosystems and human health. Across the world in recent decades, diseases new to humanity have emerged as dense human populations interact with animal species that have either been forced from their natural habitats, or have been trafficked illegally. And, as the new coronavirus pandemic has shown, pathogens do not always respect the boundaries between different animal species, including humans.
But we should not think of natural environments as a source of threats to humanity. It is human activity which should concern us, activity that leads to drastic alterations in the natural order of our world, as we reduce, degrade and destroy vast tracts of the planet we share with countless other life forms.
During the current global health crisis, in addition to the issues surrounding natural habitat loss, it has also been shown that wild animal trafficking can pose a grave threat to humanity. The Chinese government believes that a “wet market” in Wuhan, a commercial district where live wild animals were sold for use in traditional medicine practices or as food, was the source of the current global pandemic.
If the threat of future pandemics is to be averted, while short and medium term efforts across the world must of course focus on halting the spread of Covid-19 infection, in the longer term humanity as a whole will need to find new ways of defining its relationship with the natural world.
As our global population approaches eight billion and the need for new planning and development initiatives becomes increasingly urgent, we will need to prioritize the health of the natural world in nations both rich and poor.
From our remote location in the Amazon basin forests of southeastern Peru, as we watch this new health crisis unfold, we continue our work to conserve for our own and future generations the unspoiled corner of the natural world where we our ecotourism based initiative has been based for almost three decades. When people’s lives throughout other parts of the globe finally return to normal, we look forward to introducing more of the world’s travelers to the wonders of the pristine natural home that is our shared heritage.