A NEW academic discipline, Planetary Health, is emerging as scientists begin to understand better the relationship between increasing human populations, the worldwide destruction of natural systems and their unique biodiversity, and unpredicted pandemic events.
In 2012 popular author David Quammen, working with scientists around the world penned his prophetic book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.
He wrote about the strange new diseases that seem to be appearing from nowhere such as SARS, AIDS, Ebola and in Australia, Hendra.
Quammen argued that the bugs (mainly viruses) that transmit these diseases originate in wild animals and pass to humans by a process called "spillover".
Quammen closed his book with the question: "What might the next one (pandemic) be?" We now know.
In 2008, Californian ecologist Kate Jones and her team identified more than 300 diseases that had emerged in the 50-year period 1958-2008, most coming from wild animal populations. Many more have appeared in the intervening period.
We weren't listening in 2008 or 2012 but we are now in the midst of the current world-wide pandemic caused by Covid-19. Our wilful destruction of nature has come at an unbearable cost.
The current thinking amongst disease ecologists is that CV-19 is a natural virus, likely spilling over from ghost bats sold in Chinese wet meat markets and not, as some conspiracy plotters are arguing, a human manufactured disease created in a Chinese laboratory. The DNA is unmistakably wild animal in origin.
The route of the spillover is thought to be via ghost bats to a scaly mammal known as a pangolin, much sought after in Chinese wet markets. The pangolin is thought to be an intermediate host where the CV-19 DNA mutated so that the changed binding sequences enabled CV-19 to infect humans.
Many of the world's poorest people depend on wet markets for their protein intake. Becoming vegan is not an option for them.
The ongoing worldwide clearing of natural systems, mainly to support first world lifestyles, is a reminder that nature fights back.
Unbridled human development and greed comes at a cost when we increase greatly the opportunity for virulent viruses to cross from wild species to humans.
Two positive developments have come out of this pandemic; politicians other than Trump are listening to scientists; and the bad rap given to the eight endangered pangolin species might just save them from extinction.