We risk apocalypse of threatened wildlife species from COVID-19

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By Thomas Mwiraria

“Seven more cats test for Coronavirus at Bronx Zoo” reported the National Geographic on 22 April 2020.The revelation came on the same day as two pet lion in New York tested positive for Coronavirus.

The new novel Coronavirus is probably a novel recombinant virus according to CDC.

“It’s genome is closest to that of severe acute respiratory syndrome–related coronaviruses from horseshoe bats, and its receptor-binding domain is closest to that of pangolin viruses”, adds CDC.This is corroborated by March 2020, Research by Scripps Research Institute which concluded from genome sequencing that COVID-19 had natural origins similar to viruses found in bats and pangolins.

The new novel Coronavirus thus adds to MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV which are also zoonotic diseases whose origins have been traced to wildlife.
A Conservationist Dr. Gladys Karema, Founder and CEO of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH),in her presentation to Journalists in a recent Infonile –Water Journalists Africa Webinar said that Civet cat is SARS immediate host,MERS with Droomeday camel as immediate host, Ebola with Gorilla as immediate host.Sars-Cov-2 with is Pangolin as intermediate host, and HIV from Gorilla to man.

Dr.Gladys Karema’s organisation deals with conservation of endangered Gorillas. She recalls calls an outbreak where Gorillas in conservancies in Uganda contracted scabby due interaction with humans. To prevent such occurrences in the future, the organisation came with preventive measures including –anyone visiting the Gorillas has to have their temperatures checked, mandatory washing f hands, wearing of masks and watching animals from a distance.

The evidence is now all clear that the new novel Coronavirus is zoonotic, animals however might be at a higher risk of contracting COVID 19 due to their inability to wash paws with soap and water, to sanitise, physical distance. The risk of animals contracting Coronavirus is heightened by human Interaction.

If wildlife in a given national park or conservancy contract the virus, we might face an apocalypse of animals in IUCN’s red-list of Threatened species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is the global authority on the conservation status of wild species.

The Masai giraffe- a sub-species found in Kenya and Tanzania has been declared endangered .There are 35,000 Maasai giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis ssp. Tippelskirchi) left in the wild today, according to National Geographic .”Their population has fallen by nearly 50 percent in the last 30 years”, says NatGeo. A new addition to IUCN’S red list African Rhino.

Now, as COVID-19 cases soar in Kenya, visitors are being allowed to visit Nairobi National park and other conservancies around the country. It is therefore worrying that wildlife might be a high risk of considering the evidence of Zoonotic nature of the new novel coronavirus.COVID-19 could potentially wipe out threatened species. It would additionally deal a huge blow on Tourism and collapse of economy for countries that depend on Tourism as primary sector.

The spread of Coronavirus to wildlife can be prevented by drawing lessons from Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH). Dr.Gladys Karema says her organisation is proactive on protecting endangered Gorillas from the risk of contracting diseases from humans ,some preventive measures CTPH has taken include:- Checking visitors’ temperatures before allowing them to visit the animals, washing hands with soap and water, wearing of masks and physical-distancing.

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