THE intermittent efforts to decommission the already declining forest reserves in Selangor are of grave concern to humans and animals.
For our part, we have benefited enormously from the forests. However, we often underestimate or underestimate the benefits provided by forest ecosystem services and tend to overlook the importance of preserving them for the benefit of commercial and economic activities. We really need to think about what we are doing when we are slowly giving up chunks of our forests for commercial gain.
Environmental impact assessments for land use planning often do not include the potential effects on the health of wild animals living in the forest. Even if they do, political decisions can override these assessments in favor of economic gains.
The problem is, when we remove animals‘ habitats and encroach more deeply on their natural living spaces, we reduce the barrier between us and them, forcing them out of their destroyed habitats in search of food.
Preserving biodiversity is important not only for conservation reasons, but also to ensure a balanced ecosystem between predator (which includes predatory plants and animals) and prey (which includes insects such as mosquitoes and other disease vectors) .
Whether this balance is altered by force or naturally, we inadvertently set off a chain of reactions that will be large enough for certain pathogens (pathogens) to spread from animals to humans.
Some of these agents may not be harmful to humans, but others can be fatal. At the same time, we can also endanger wild animals as they would be exposed to human pathogens, thus compromising our conservation efforts.
We are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and the whole world is now struggling to cope with the emergence of its new deadly variants. Projections based on disease trends over a century indicate that more diseases with pandemic potential will emerge. It’s just a matter of when, how and in what form.
The factors that contribute to these epidemics have been widely published, and the main ones are deforestation and defragmentation of forests.
Over 60% of all recent emerging diseases (newly discovered diseases) in humans result from some kind of human-wildlife-animal interaction. Zoonoses (diseases transmissible between humans and animals) are often perceived as infrequent or insignificant compared to cancer, hypertension or diabetes.
But they can lead to catastrophic results if we are unprepared or neglect to do what is necessary to reduce the likelihood of their occurrence. Local examples of such diseases include zoonotic malaria (monkey malaria) and Nipah virus infection caused primarily by changes in ecosystem and land use.
The recent emergence of major diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Avian Flu and most likely Covid-19 is attributed to the complex interactions between animals and humans .
In Africa, epidemics of devastating diseases such as Ebola, Marburg fever and Lassa fever are due to the direct spread of pathogens from wild animals to humans.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15, âLife on Earth,â calls on us humans to protect the earth’s ecosystem and conserve all forms of earthly creatures. In doing so, we will help ensure the health of our forest ecosystems and the animals that inhabit them, thereby ensuring our own good health.
PROFESSOR DR LATIFFAH HASSAN
Veterinary public health epidemiologist
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Putra University Malaysia