DW Documentary – Dec 11, 2020
Humans are destroying more and more natural habitats, which brings animals into closer contact with people — and this can contribute to the outbreak of pandemics, like Covid-19. But several African countries are trying to protect forested areas. For example, most researchers believe that the Covid-19 virus originated in bats, and then crossed over to humans. The precise origins of Covid-19 are not yet clear. But there is no doubt that a number of new viruses have originated in the animal kingdom or are transmitted in the wild. The primary source of Covid-19 is widely believed to be bats; pangolins may have served as intermediate hosts. And the destruction of forests by humans has brought many animals closer to populated areas, which has increased the threat of new diseases.
In Uganda and Kenya, virologists and zoologists are trying to determine whether there’s a connection between human contact with wild animals and the spread of viruses. They’re concerned that a deadly virus like Covid can spread from humans to certain species of animals. At the Bwindi National Park in Uganda, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, is working to protect mountain gorillas, an endangered species. She fears that the gorillas could fall victim to Covid-19, transmitted by humans. Her job has become more difficult, because a number of men who lost their jobs due to Covid restrictions have now turned to poaching gorillas.
Kenyan scientist Augustine Baraza Obuyele is an expert on bats. He’s been working at Mount Elgon on the Kenyan-Ugandan border, trying to discover new kinds of viruses among the bat population there — viruses that could one day spread to humans, as Covid has. As humans continue to encroach on animal habitats, such as clear-cutting forests, there is an increased risk that infections could spread from animals to humans.
The international community is concerned about these developments. For example, the U-N has declared a decade-long effort, set to begin next year, to protect and revive the world’s ecosystems. The project, led by the UN’s Environment Programme and its Food and Agriculture Organization, includes a number of re-forestation projects.
Many African countries are cutting down forests to generate income, but others are committed to conservation efforts. For example, Kenya is trying to protect as much of the Mau Forest as possible. But to do this, the authorities have driven large numbers of indigenous people from their ancestral homeland. It will be difficult to find the right balance between protecting ecosystems and preserving the rights of people who live in those areas.