By Sherry Marr
As you know, my heart is always with the animals, wild and domestic. Anderson Cooper of CNN recently interviewed Dr. Jane Goodall, who said she hoped the corona virus pandemic would soon be over. Then she added, “I hope and pray that the nightmare will soon be over for the wild animals who are captured and kept in horrible conditions for food. Our too-close relationship with wild animals in the markets, or when we use them for entertainment, has unleashed the terror and misery of new viruses, viruses that live in them without harming them, but mutate into other forms to infect us.
“We have amazing brains,” she continued. “We are capable of love and compassion for each other. Let us also show love and compassion for the animals who are with us on this planet.”
Music to my ears. But will humankind listen? Have we learned anything from this? Stay tuned. I have a discouraging answer to that question farther down in this feature.
This virus has made clear as never before how interconnected we all are with the natural world and the other species we share the planet with. We know now, there is a direct connection between the wild animals in the wet markets of Wuhan and the corona virus. The pangolin (scaly anteater) and the civet are said to have played a part in transmitting it. Researchers say it likely originated in the Chinese horseshoe bat.
In wet markets, people buy and eat such things as barbecued bats, monkeys, cats and dogs, all kept in terrible conditions. They look out through the wire in terror, knowing they are about to die a horrible death. They are killed in ways too brutal for me to relate. We don’t want to know this. It makes us uncomfortable. We prefer to look away. We can easily imagine the distress of a single human in this world that we have made so difficult to live in. Each individual animal feels the exact same fear, pain and terror that we do. They haunt me.
Some of our North American practices in our factory “farms” are as brutal as anything we cluck about across the sea.
Because I know that animals feel everything we feel, because I have seen their tears and I hear their cries for help all over the world, I can’t turn away. I bear witness. I sing the song of their desperate lives, hoping enough of us will hear and come to their rescue.
We are now paying the price of wildlife trafficking. The bill has come due. The demand for apes, for bush meat and body parts, for elephants, rhinos, big cats, giraffes has brought us to this moment. The pangolin is one of the most trafficked animals on earth. Who would have thought our fates would intertwine? These are creatures that belong in the wild, whom we have interfered with terribly. Now seven tigers in captivity at the Bronx Zoo in the U.S. have the virus, infected by their human handler.
As early as 2007, studies warned “wet markets are a time bomb for a virus outbreak”. And this week both the White House coronavirus expert Anthony Fauci and U.N. Biodiversity Chief Elizabeth Mrema called for a global shutdown of all wild animal markets, “to prevent the next pandemic.” Oh my goodness.
Here is where my heart sinks. China did order the wet markets closed when the virus broke out. But they re-opened as soon as lockdown regulations were relaxed.
Let that sink in. How discouraging, that we learn nothing from what we live through. How frustrating that profit continues to be the driving force, above survival of the planet, its people, and the other beings whose survival is totally at our mercy. Mea culpa.
As citizens of our global village, the protection of our environment equals the protection of our future, and our grandchildren’s. The laws we create to protect wildlife will also protect human communities. A shift to restoring the earth to balance will create employment, through alternative sustainable livelihoods that do no harm. This will create more successful human communities.
Compliance will be a problem; the wild animal trade is peoples’ livelihoods. We need to develop artisan markets, tourism, wildlife protection and land stewarding jobs instead. The UN chief noted that the risk is of driving the trade underground, making it even more dangerous and less regulated.
In the short window of time remaining before we pass the tipping point (which feels ever nearer, to me), we need to make every effort, personally, nationally and globally, to heal the harm we have done to Mother Earth. We have seen how quickly the natural world responded, when we humans took our feet off the gas pedal and stayed indoors: she began to heal, skies cleared, waters grew cleaner. Mother Earth has been sending us messages in every voice she has, telling us she was in trouble. With this virus, perhaps she has finally gotten our attention. I hope so.
We have seen how governments at every level, faced with the global threat of the virus, have come together. Everything else was set aside to address the problem which threatens our lives. I hope they will do the same for the climate crisis, when the virus subsides, for it threatens us every bit as much. I think of wildfire season, not that far off, with foreboding. Governments and everyday people have shown we can step up with courage, determination, and with full and loving hearts, when the cause is urgent. I have to hope that on the other side of the crisis, we will address climate change, of which this virus, our global appetites, and the voracious maw of capitalism have all played their part.
For your challenge: as always, I keep it wide open. Write about whatever this sparks in you: our connection with the natural world and with the wild, your fear, anger, hope, love of animals, domestic and wild, or your frustration at humanity’s slowness to grasp our shared predicament. Never did we think we would be living through times like this. How is the virus affecting you?
Bring us your words, experiences and feelings about these difficult times we live in. Be assured, we will read them with deep respect.